Breaking the 4 Boxes: Share Your Experiences.

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It seems almost everywhere on these boards people carry the implicit assumption that a party of 4 in D&D should include four specific types of PC: one PC each classed into the fighter, cleric, mage, and rogue roles. It's against other classes in the same role that classes are balanced against in the discussions on Classes and Prestige Classes. It's usually expected for a build to fall into one of these four roles when presented on the Character Optimization boards. There's this overwhelming paradigm present that a four person party in Dungeons and Dragons must include a front line melee combat character, a character with trapfinding and sneak attack but less front line capability, a fragile spellcaster with utility and offensive spells, and a more durable spellcaster with healing and support spells.

That irritates me.

It irritates me on a number of levels. First, it irritates me that the game is suggested to be balanced this way. The levels of power the arcane and divine spellcasters can reach, even in Core only, dwarf the capabilities of other classes. Anyone's opinion on balance aside, it is not that hard to see where one of these four roles can be subsumed or made irrelevant by a class or character that's supposed to lie in a different role.
Second, it irritates me because it primes, via suggestion, the habit in players to design characters for these roles in a party and only these roles in a party. We can come up with an infinite number of personalities and backgrounds to give life to fascinating characters with...so why should I assume there are only four kinds of approaches my characters should take to adventuring?
Third, it irritates me how this creates a fixation on strategies designed solely for this kind of party; usually all variations of "the Fighter guy goes up front, the Rogue tries to flank and sneak attack, the mage stays far from combat and the Cleric moves close to whoever needs healing". Never mind how numerous monsters, in the core monster manual alone, can rip this strategy apart (ignore the fighter and go for the squishies for one). Why should all parties follow strategies in this vein? Boooooooring.

So what do I do with ideas that irritate me? I like to kill them. I can be a bad person in that way; but this particular idea deserves to die.

I would like to extend an invitation to everyone else on these boards to tell me about your (roughly) four person parties that didn't fall into the paradigm of four boxes to organize characters with. I would especially like to hear what innovative tactics and approaches to problem solving you were able to come up with when you built parties this way.

I'll start. Below are descriptions of two parties I have played in, both of which have not toed the traditional four-role line. Included with each are descriptions of two encounters. I've tried to cover challenging encounters, including situations where we were caught at a tactical disadvantage or faced foes well suited to fight us. I've also hoped to demonstrate both in-combat and out-of-combat capabilities. (In case anyone's wondering, these games are currently still going; I play them on OpenRPG)

Eclipse Inquisitives
Based in Eberron, Eclipse Inquisitives is a small private investigation and bounty hunting firm based out of Sharn. We've run around various parts of Eberron in four proper adventure arcs (two of which were the published modules Shadows of the Last War and Whispers of the Vampire's Blade, the rest were homemade) to date and have just started our fifth. Encounters tend towards information gathering, social interaction, and spectacularly violent combat. Here are the party members, with class and prestige class breakdown.

Members
Elerosse Tasardur:
Elf ranger (using the sublime way variant in my signature) and Revenant Blade
At first glance, 'Rosse appears to fit the tank role. He is brutally effective in combat with his double scimitar (specializing in critical hit delivery, as often and as painfully as possible) and has become the party's primary damage dealer in the last few levels. However, he has neither the highest AC nor the largest hit point pool in the party. Secondly, he's also our primary scout with very high Spot and Listen checks. He's actually far more skilled than the tank role expects, capable of handling many infiltration and mobility challenges. He does not try to hold the line either; he deals damage rather than attempt deterrence.

Lehatharath: Kalashtar ardent, recently multiclassed into crusader.
Lehatharath seems to straddle the tank and healer roles; he has the highest AC and hit point pool in the party, can become even harder to kill thanks to his Defensive Precognition buff, and carries easy healing with his Touch of Life power. However, he lacks offensive strength in melee compared to Elerosse, Torrin, or Angela's constructs. His healing is also limited and not used in combat except in case of emergencies (in fact, he can only heal his own ability damage at the moment, and not that of others). Most of his offense lies in his mind-affecting powers (two debuffs and the damaging Mind Thrust) making him effectively a heavily armored enchanter in combat. Moreover, he is more skilled than the tank or healer roles suggest. Many ranks in Gather Information and the Urban Tracking feat, combined with a number of information gathering psionic powers and items give him the point position in places where detective work is needed (although he appreciates 'Rosse's significant tracking abilities).

Torrin Ghaladra: Elf monk, ninja, swordsage, and Shadow Sun Ninja
Like Elerosse, Torrin appears to fall into one of the four roles, namely the sneak position. He's got sudden strike, heavy Hide and Move Silently ranks, and trapfinding. The catch? He throws himself into combat with less abandon than the more resilient Lehatharath or Elerosse. He does this for two reasons. First is that he has excellent defenses. His AC is good, though not as good as Lehatharath's often is; more importantly, he can call upon invisibility from both his maneuvers and ninja ki abilities. Invisibility can often be a better defense than high AC or HP; it's kept him alive with less HP than the rest of the party. Having incredible saves - the best in the party by far for almost all three - doesn't hurt either. The second reason is that he can flank from any angle (with the Island of Blades stance) and perform combat battlefield control that a fighter type is normally expected to provide (with his Setting Sun maneuvers). On top, his Touch of the Shadow Sun ability allows him to heal allies after damaging enemies. It's not uncommon for Torrin to heal more hit points in a battle than Lehatharath.

Angela Loren d'Ghallanda: Halfling shaper and Astral Zealot
Don't let the levels in a caster-role class like the shaper fool you; indirectly, Angela is the party tank. Offensively, she can summon astral constructs, and it's always preferred for the disposable and powerful constructs to take the lead in melee combat than any of the others. Defensively, she is far more resilient than the mage role suggests. Her Fortitude save is as high as her Will save, she often enjoys an better AC than Elerosse, has more HP than Torrin, and she almost always has some damage reduction available from class features and powers. Her toughness means the party can worry less about keeping her safe and more about taking the fight to the foe. She also has excellent social skills and the benefits of Favored in House to solidify her position as party face.
Combat Example - Storming the Embassy
In this series of encounters, we had to storm a Riedran embassy in the middle of the night and eliminate three Inspired ambassadors. All of them were NPCs of considerably higher level than the party and well optimized. Each of the Inspired had two shifter warblade bodyguards, and a number of embassy guards (human psychic warriors) were on patrol as well.
Torrin and Angela scouted the building out ahead of time and tested it for anti-teleportation measures. Angela was also able to get us a map of the complex with her House connections and social skills. Lehatharath put his investigation skills to work and found out what he could about the Inspired and their defenses ahead of time. On the night of the assault, we Dimension Doored into the embassy kitchen, a spot we knew was undefended, and did a bit more scouting. Turns out the second floor of the embassy, with the bedrooms and all, was protected from teleportation from outside - but not from within the building.
We teleported past the human guards and into one of the upstairs bedrooms, employing a Suspended Silence item Lehatharath had bought. In there we found a surprised Inspired ambassador, a human psion NPC with whom she was conversing, and two shifter bodyguards. Lehatharath had the entire party on a mindlink, so they communicated telepathically while we attacked in perfect silence. The unexpected human psion made telepathic contact with Lehatharath before teleporting away; Angela discovered the direction of his escape with Trace Teleport (important plot point). Torrin dropped the Inspired with three poisoned shuriken (sleep poison) and performed a coup de grace on her the next turn. Lehatharath and Elerosse focused on the shifters. Lehatharath confused one with an Id Insinuation before nailing it with a painful Mind Thrust, and Elerosse simply applied his devastating full attacks in Blood in the Water stance. Both shifter bodyguards fell quickly.
Unfortunately, the bodyguards kicked the bedroom door open in the fight and the human guards outside noticed what was going on and raised the alarm. We'd also found that these shifters had stronger mental and physical defenses than we anticipated (Warblades with the Moment of Perfect Mind and Stone Bones maneuvers), making them more resilient to Lehatharath's and Elerosse's attacks (they'd fortunately rolled poor, so we rolled over them this time). We moved out to engage the guards in a defensive posture. They'd taken an action to prepare themselves with psionic powers before attacking, and Angela took that time to summon an astral construct behind them. While they dealt with that, she teleported the party into another room, one we knew from the maps had a secret stairway to the first floor.
Sneaking downstairs, we found the second Inspired ambassador talking to her shifter bodyguards. Torrin became invisible and moved close to strike her, and then we were exposed to the next unpleasant tactical surprise of the night - she had the Touchsight power active and noticed him immediately. Combat ensued, where Elerosse rushed forward to help Torrin with the shifters. Lehatharath also advanced while Angela started creating another construct, and struck the shifters with a weak mental effect to probe their defenses (and test his theory that they were not infinite). In the meanwhile, the psion moved to feint and attack Lehatharath, but he managed to beat the feint and avoid a potentially devastating sneak attack. This did lead to unpleasant tactical surprise number three: her dagger was a suppression weapon, which dispelled all of Lehatharath's magical defenses and the party mindlink.
While Torrin and Elerosse focused on the shifters and brought them down, Angela's astral construct charged and bull rushed the Inspired *through* a dais in the centre of the room, dealing large amounts of damage. The elves finished the two shifters off while Lehath attempted to Mind Thrust the Inspired. Unpleasant tactical surprise number four was that she had used a psionic item to give herself Reddopsi ahead of time, rebounding the Mind Thrust back on Lehatharath; but he had an excellent Will save and wasn't about to get served by his own power. She stabbed the construct with her suppression dagger, dispelling it, but by that time the elves were done with the shifters (with some help from Angela) and had no problem cutting her down (she was badly wounded at this point).
We were looting their bodies and healing those wounds when the third Inspired arrived. This time, our enemy was not caught by surprise. 'Rosse moved to engage the shifters while Torrin went after the Inspired. A shifter attacked Lehatharath, who stepped back out of range and reestablished his Defensive Precognition power (granting a bonus to AC and saves). This unwittingly saved his life after the Inspired dropped a devastating Energy Missile power on Lehatharath and Angela. This Inspired was apparently a specialist at such powers; it did so much damage that the partially wounded Lehatharath was knocked to under 0 hp even after making his save. Angela made her save too, in thanks to having cover from the rubble left after her construct had destroyed the dais in the centre of the room. She was creating an astral construct at the time; by expending her psionic focus she was able to concentrate on the power and created a massive construct with grappling and poison abilities. While it started to chew on the Inspired, she fed a potion to Lehatharath, bringing him back.
Torrin moved in to attack the grappled Inspired, and we were treated to our last unpleasant surprise of the night - there was a Share Pain effect diverting half the damage the Inspired would take to his shifter bodyguards. It kept him alive longer, although the transferred damage was enough to kill a wounded shifter (the other one was taken down by 'Rosse next turn). The Inspired blasted the construct with a powerful energy missile in an attempt to escape, but the construct was too tough and didn't fall. Torrin then drained the last of the Inspired's life away with his Touch of the Shadow Sun, and the mission was completed.

Combat and Noncombat Example - The Bloodied Tavern
In this encounter, we were arriving into a new town with a Kalashtar NPC who was assisting the party; he stayed behind at first, however. We were passing a tavern when we heard a commotion and saw three brigands burst out with bloodied weapons - a dwarf wielding magic wands, a robed warforged, and a female human in Cyrran armor.
We were about to give chase when an invisible mage somewhere drew our attention with a line of verbal spell components - and then an Evard's Black Tentacles spell. That trapped the party down. None of us were able to escape, but Angela was able to trap the three we could see in an Ectoplasmic Wall. This did not last long; the human warrior burst out with a strength check while the warforged (apparently a warlock) followed and blasted Lehatharath and Torrin with an eldritch chain; Lehatharath was hit but Torrin managed to dodge it even when grappled. Elerosse eliminated the magical effect with an Iron Heart Surge (we use the RAW ruling that it dispels area effects) and started to move forward. Then the invisible mage dropped a Solid Fog on us.
Torrin went invisible and then Shadow Jaunted out of the fog. Angela then hit both the fog and the invisible mage (located through scent thanks to Elerosse' Hunter's Sense stance) with an area dispel. This removed the fog and knocked out the mage's invisibility, but not the Flight that kept her airborne. As the half elf mage became visible, the warforged warlock also flew into the air and activated an invocation that allowed him to see and locate Torrin for her. The human warrior ran past the invisible Torrin, shrugging off an attack of opportunity. Lehatharath ran to the tavern door to check on possible survivors, and unfortunately found a bloodied scene without any visible at first. As Elerosse moved into position, the half elf mage vanished with a Dimension Door. Torrin stabbed the human warrior with the suppression dagger we'd taken off of the second Inspired mentioned above. This dispelled her magic items temporarily, and she turned to fight.
Angela then successfully trapped the flying warforged in an ectoplasmic cocoon, sending it falling to earth. As the Cyrran woman turned to attack Torrin, the dwarf everyone had forgot about made his presence known by blasting the cocoon with a scorching ray. This freed the warforged, who vanished with a Flee the Scene invocation. The dwarf had been hiding in the shell of Angela's Ectoplasmic Wall the whole time. Lehatharath raced to help Torrin with the Cyrran while 'Rosse searched for the dwarf - who was invisible - by scent. Torrin laid into the Cyrran with a full attack, but that didn't hurt her much. She responded by dropping her disguise - the human was actually a transformed rakshasa, and she laid into Torrin with a painful full attack. At this point, however, Lehatharath was close enough to get close and whack her with a Mountain Hammer, ignoring her DR and dealing some good damage. He then used White Raven Tactics to give Torrin an advance turn, which Torrin used to go invisible and send the demon to the ground with a Mighty Throw.
Elerosse moved up to the rakshasa at this point, having found the dwarf was gone, and whacks her with two nasty strikes - that don't penetrate the damage reduction at all. The attacks of opportunity Torrin and Lehatharath make as it stands do little damage as well. The Rakshasa drained some life from Lehatharath with a Vampiric Touch. Lehatharath struck her in response with a combination of maneuvers that denied her ability to make attacks of opportunity and gave him an attack of opportunity if she attacked anyone else. Torrin then blinded her with a Shadow Sun Ninja ability and drained her life in turn with Touch of the Shadow Sun.
At this point the other NPC on our side arrived. Kanatash is a kalashtar soulknife/monk, a skilled and mobile fighter at both close quarters and long range. Angela had handed him a potion of fly and he took off towards the fight. Elerosse tore into the Rakshasa with a full attack, but managed to make little headway against its DR. The demon attacked Lehath but missed in her blindness. Angela then created an astral construct which tripped the demon. Lehatharath attacked the demon twice, dealing a little damage, and then Torrin healed Lehatharath and went invisible once more before full attacking the demon to little effect.
Elerosse decides to spend this turn charging up his Combat Rhythm technique for a large bonus to attack next round, so he could steamroller the monster's damage reduction completely. Kanatash reached the fight scene, and we find that his soulknife is enchanted to beat the monster's damage reduction. She responded with a vicious full attack, forcing Lehath to do some emergency healing to give Kanatash a chance. The construct tripped her again, and then Torrin struck her with a Touch of the Shadow Sun. That, being negative energy damage, bypasses DR and was enough to finally drop the beast.
With one of the brigands dead and the rest fled, we had to examine the crime scene. Lehatharath and Torrin went over the carnage, helping some survivors and finding clues with gloves of Object Reading and Lehatharath's Sensitivity to Psychic Impressions power (which revealed lots of useful plot information). Angela spoke with witnesses and the local sherriff, while Elerosse tracked the scent of the brigands backwards. They had escaped by teleportation, but they entered the tavern in the first place by foot - the trail Elerosse found was our best lead.

Fire, Water, Smoke, Mirrors
I'd like to thank Tempest for helping me put together these character descriptions.
The name of the game comes from character creation, when one too many jokes about Chrono Trigger led to the creation of a team where each member reflects a specific, single, almost elemental theme (indicated below). It's set in a custom world, which by most games' standards would be considered high-magic (or at least higher-magic, especially in the movers and the shakers). The team was originally a small security company from an oppressive magocracy who hired two renegade bodyguards from the nation the magocracy is currently at war at. At the time, the goal was to escape the magocracy's iron fist; it seems like this is within the team's grasp right now. Every adventure has been homebrew, with a serious focus on intrigue, character development, timing, and magic. Lots and lots of magic. Combat, when it happens, is often off the hook in that the team works as one, devising carefully timed teamwork attacks that serve to overwhelm the opposition.

Liam Cross (Water): Human Swordsage, Shadow Sun Ninja, and Warblade
With a class breakdown like that, Liam looks like a mobile heavy hitter, something more like a skirmishing monk. In truth, he is rather monklike in that he prefers to fight unarmed, but that's about where the similarities end (especially since he just got himself a shiny new spiked chain). This fellow is the TANK. He's impossibly hard to hit (and his default battle stance, Pearl of Black Doubt, amps his AC every time he's missed). He packs a lot of counters. He uses Setting Sun judiciously to relocate the enemy, often over cliffs, in pits, or in lakes. He tanks by forcing the opponent to deal with him -- or end up somewhere where they will be unable to strike their targets. It's a sort of active defense, one might say. However, tanking is not the limit of his abilities by far. Like Torrin in Eclipse Inquisitives, he's able to provide vital in-combat healing with Touch of the Shadow Sun. He's also an excellent scout with Hide, Move Silently, Spot, and Listen checks of an impressive caliber, and a Sense Motive check that gives him a lie detector role in social situations.

Ethan Cross (Fire): Human Swordsage
Of all the characters in this game, Ethan's the closest to a stock party role -- but it isn't the melee skirmisher you'd expect from the monk-like swordsage. Ethan's a Desert Wind specialist, and really plays the swordsage more like a melee warmage. We're at the level where direct damage is beginning to wear out as an effective trick. In the meantime, though, he's been dishing out serious damage -- overwhelming amounts of it, mostly fire-based -- while demonstrating Desert Wind and Tiger Claw's great mobility options to boot (along with a few, but not many, Stone Dragon defenses). His defense is seriously lacking (his AC and HP are respectable, but nothing special for the level he's at), and his attacks are rather one-dimensional -- these would be serious impediments to his style, were it not for two other things: Liam, and Dayvid. Liam often provides defensive cover for Ethan's offensive punch, and Dayvid's battlefield manipulation enables Ethan to focus on whatever targets he needs to. (Besides, Dayvid typically packs Transposition spells, just in case Ethan bites off more than he can chew.) Ethan is extremely versatile in the manner in which he delivers damage, with ranged single shots, area effects at melee range, the multitargeting Firesnake maneuver, several charge-based maneuvers and a devastating full attack after bonuses from the Blood in the Water stance and a Desert Wind boost have been applied. He's also got Jump and Tumble to move where he's needed, very handy for giving Dayvid options with those Transpositions. A nice Sense Motive helps him do lie detection like his brother, and can assist in 'coercion' encounters with his Intimidate skill.

Xek (Mirrors): Changeling psychic rogue (Mind's Eye), Chameleon
Xek is an infiltration specialist, as the rogue core might suggest. However, that's where the similarity ends -- Xek has Persona Immersion, and is played in an interesting way which maps different forms to different Chameleon specialities. One day, Xek may be in the form of Ikaros, a charming rogue in every sense of the term with a touch of arcane trickery up his sleeve. The next, she may be Shevitha, a xeph acrobat with a healing gift and an almost childlike innocence about her. On another day, she may be Carlak, a mogrelfolk warrior with a "hold the line" infantryman attitude and a mean glaive at his side. At the moment, circumstances in-game prevent controlled switching (you'll know why if and when I'm bugged into providing RP summaries for these characters), but it still allows the "rogue" of the party to handle herself in melee without too much difficulty *and* provide some spell
support. Simply put, a Chameleon fits whatever role they feel like at the moment.

Dayvid Thales Dalawann: (Smoke) Gnome Illusionist / Shadow Adept
/ Geometer / Shadowcraft Mage
Yeah, he does fit the bill as far as a wizard goes. The difference? He's banned Evocation and Necromancy, and has zero ranks in Concentration, and yet it has been his contributions to the game that often secure victory for the team. Proper application of enchantment and illlusion lead to enemies being confused out of their wits, debilitated, sealed off from combat, or worse. Furthermore, Dayvid's a skilled liar and manipluator, quite capable at leading people on even without magic if he needs to, while still providing the party knowledge base. Dayvid also has untold versatility as a vancian wizard: he's able to use shadow magic and various spells to mimic the effect of other spells on a spontaneous basis. The normal drawbacks of shadow illusions are mitigated (and in a few levels, will be completely reversed once he starts casting shadow spells more real than the real thing!). Despite his low defenses (I don't think his AC's ever beat 11), he has been hit *twice* in the entire campaign to this date. He's also as likely to spend a round cleaning his nails as casting a spell, given how many combats he's reduced to waiting for the foes to succumb to his powerful lasting battlefield control effects. Blasting and worrying about preparation is for suckers - Dayvid's options are so versatile he's practically a role unto himself.

I'd like to weigh in by saying that I'm in both of these games with RT right now, and this post came out of a bit of a discussion we were having. We share identical opinions on the archetypal party-of-four approach, in that it's a reasonably effective spread of abilities but stifling, both creatively and tactically. I noted this especially when teaching the game to a bunch of new people -- every single one of them had a brilliant character idea, but not one fell into the classic four-roles paradigm (most were hybrids in some way, shape, or form -- expressed mechanically, they would typically be duskblades, favored souls, druids, or psychic warriors). I look forward to seeing some other examples of busting the 4-role-box.

I'm especially interested in two types of encounters for such parties -- ones where you "shouldn't be alive" so to speak (hard encounters that typically need a balanced approach to defeat, but your group emerged victorious) and encounters where you had a "flawless victory" (where your unusual makeup led to a remarkably easy fight where the classic 4-man team wouldn't have). Of particular interest to me are TACTICS -- RT mentioned above the stereotypical "fighter holds line, rogue flanks, wizard stays back and casts, cleric defends and heals" approach... which I, personally, find both boring and unsatisfying to play (my characters tend to make use of the environment and unconventional application of magic). I'd love to hear what innovative tactics your nonstandard team makeup has produced as well, especially if it's dynamic and novel.

Cancer prognosis: I am now cancer-free.

Weekly Optimization Series

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These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

[RT] Captain Charisma: All she wants to do is dance (Hybrid (melee/support), SAD, Theme (criticals), Theme (flex-style)

[TS] Assassin's Speed: A blade in the crowd (Melee (technical), iaijutsu, SAD, theme (Assassin's Creed), tutorial)

 

Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft

 

Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

I have very rarely actually seen the 4 class setup. Most 4 man grousp I've been in have involved either a cleric, rogue and 2 fighters (or some basic variation with non-core classes), or cleric, rogue and 2 casters.

My favorite group, though, was 4 clerics. Each focused on something different: we had a heal-bot, a melee monster, a buff-monkey and another that acted as a "face."
I am currently DMing the following:

Tiefling Knight 3 (ECL4)
Fire Genasi Ranger 3 (ECL 4)
Aasimar Cleric of Chauntea 2 (ECL 3)

As you can see, the party lacks an arcane caster altogether, and this cleric is the first one to be played in our group in quite a while. Notice that all the players chose planetouched, however. The Knights player enjoys trying to overcome evil stereotypes (although he hasn't done drow yet), the Fire Genasi is a pyro in RL, and the Aasimar fit the clerics design, with that players concept created before race and class were selected.

We never follow archetypes. Ever.
Currently, we are playing a campaign that should have 4 players, but one is more or less absent, our cleric.

I am the Rogue/Sorcerer (multiclassed for goodness)
We also have a twf crit freak and a strength dependant barbarian.

What we should have is a cleric, not your normal cleric, but a necromancer summoner. Sadly, he (or she if refering to the player), has not been around much. This leaves us where we had been the entire campaign, without a healer. And we do just fine.
My favorite group, though, was 4 clerics. Each focused on something different: we had a heal-bot, a melee monster, a buff-monkey and another that acted as a "face."

But, see! You are taking four clerics and jamming them into the 4 boxes. Why not four heal-bots? Why not four High Priest types?

I dream of running a party of all rogue types. That would be fun, challenging, and OUTSIDE the boxes. But alas, the players don't want to be sneaky...

The Sundering- "Hmmm... That last Realms Shaking Event sure did mess things up... I know!!! Let's have another one to fix it!"

Fighter, Fighter, Rogue, Rogue.

My group played this party for years and it was wonderful. All four party members rush the opponent down mercilessly, tripping and sneak attacking anything in its way into oblivion. At level 10 the addition of oppurtunist to the Rogues just sealed things up.

I mean, I know it doesn't sound very innovative or anything, but considering how reliant most groups are on spells, it is friggin' brilliant in its own way. The characters were designed to win initiative and/or get surprise rounds so that the opponent would be dead or running before they could use any good abilities. The party could outpace any monster that relied on HP damage and save-or-screwed effects mean little when there is so much redundancy between party members (Man you paralyzed the rogue. Good thing we have a spare!). A few restorative and buffing items and a careful eye towards which commissions they selected and they were tight.

Really, this group convinced me that spellcasters just aren't that fun. When you can't just bypass everything anything you want as a standard action the game is cooler.

Another really funny party was Fighter, Wizard, Wizard, Nymph. Both of the wizards focused on control spells, with one favoring summons and the other favoring defensive stuff. Basically, this party was the exact opposite (even though the fighter in this party was one of the fighers in the other party) of the other. They simply did not so any damage, instead completely looking up the fight with stunning gaze, acid fog, wall of ________, trips, summoned elementals, etc. while slowly chipping the opponent away. Every combat took a long time to resolve, but usually it was a forgone conclusion early on. The opponents would get seperated and stalled while the fighter individually pounded them. For a powerful single opponent would be subjected to repeated save-or-abilities from behind barriers of spell created obstacles and the fighter. Probably the most "professional" party I'd ever been in, from the perspective that they always were able to solve every encounter they faced with a clear, efficient strategy that was often ad-libbed and always effective.

It also helped convinve me that the game is less fun with two wizards, because you really, really always have a solution to every problem as a standard action, even when both wizards are intentionally limiting their spell lists for thematic and balance concerns.
Heavy Rocks
Good example, Ongorth.

The second example party will be finished sometime later. I'd like to hear more about real examples from others, particularly with details (as Tempest pointed out). I'm interested in the specific encounters the less conventional parties shined in.
But, see! You are taking four clerics and jamming them into the 4 boxes. Why not four heal-bots? Why not four High Priest types?

EXACTLY.

To borrow a Final Fantasy metaphor, this isn't like going Redmage/Redmage/Redmage/Redmage. It isn't asking if you managed to get the old four-role team using different classes. This is more like asking if anyone's gone Whitemage/Whitemage/Thief/Blackbelt, or somthing else equally off-the-wall, to see if the old four-role team is even valid.



As I said, I'm most interested in tactics and actual-game examples if possible. Follow RT's format if you can. Ongorth's isn't bad either -- I especially like what I see in the second party (though I question how the first one would have handled something like a flyer or anything that targets a will save), in that it worked on its strengths, targeted opponent weaknesses, and, above all else, was fun to play.

Cancer prognosis: I am now cancer-free.

Weekly Optimization Series

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These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

[RT] Captain Charisma: All she wants to do is dance (Hybrid (melee/support), SAD, Theme (criticals), Theme (flex-style)

[TS] Assassin's Speed: A blade in the crowd (Melee (technical), iaijutsu, SAD, theme (Assassin's Creed), tutorial)

 

Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft

 

Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

As I said, I'm most interested in tactics and actual-game examples if possible. Follow RT's format if you can. Ongorth's isn't bad either -- I especially like what I see in the second party (though I question how the first one would have handled something like a flyer or anything that targets a will save), in that it worked on its strengths, targeted opponent weaknesses, and, above all else, was fun to play.

If I have time, I can post full details including example combats, but thats a lot of work for no reward.

Like I mentioned briefly with the first party, they were very careful with what commissions they took. If there wasn't a low ceiling, they wouldn't take the commission! The will save thing is less of an issue. The king of the mass will save targetting effects (Mind Flayers) are super brittle and there best defense (SR) is entirely irrelevant. Otherwise, most parties have one or two people with weak will saves that are going to be hosed anyway, at least in this party the vunerible person was never going to be the "vital link".

But, seriously, the second party absolutely controlled combats. I remember one encounter involved them getting surrounded and ambushed by a group of Gythanki bandits on a barren stretch of an unfamiliar plane with the only terrain feature being the Mercenary and Pacifist Sphinx that they were riding who decided to take a nap when the action started. Being surrounded by enemies (two of which had ninja levels which we all know are deadly against wizards who haven't got detect invisible up!) would seem to be a tricky encounter, especially with no walls to use blocking out enemies. But the party quickly readjusted to the situation, rushed one side of the fight, disabling as many as possible before covering themselves with solid fog to prevent retaliation. The enemies wanted to avoid clumping together, so they kept spread apart while the party "fog cloud jumped" attacking one or two at a time before going after another. At one point in the fight every single Gith was stunned, held or tripped and there was at least 8 of them. In fact, the party only ended up killing one of them when the Nymph cdged one of the held opponents. She felt really guilty about that, particularly her player after I mercilessly added three minutes of gory details to the "Merciless display of cruelty". Good times.
Heavy Rocks
I would personally enjoy playing in aparty of all rogue types. Even if they multiclassed and stuff (and I love to multiclass), it would be fun to play where everyone could stick together in gathering information and scaling walls and sneaking by guards.

Yes, even if it did turn into a Naruto-esque campaign...
Ah, the 4 Prime Roles. Really, its one of the things that make D&D, well, D&D.

As you may or may not be aware, pre 3rd edition basically catergorized every class in one of the 4 'boxes' as you call them.

Warrior- Included Fighter, Ranger and Paladin(good luck rolling a natural Paladin...)
Wizard- Included Mage, Illusionist
Priest- Included Cleric and Druid
Rouge- Included Thief and Bard

Yes, they were actually presented that way.

Because D&D was, and is to my belief, a game about teamwork. Where everyone has their own skillsets to contribute to the team. The game was, and is, designed so that those 4 roles work well together [i]without stealing one anothers thunder[i]

This histiry continues onto today. At the heart, you can see it in the CR system- where 4 is the number that the math is based on.

Now, in today's game, you CAN get by... especially if your DM tailors the campaign to you. The DM/Player relationship is far less adversarial than the days of Gygaxian Dungeoncrawls. But if you play the game 'straight out of the box' you are going to need people to fill certain roles. So whatever i say in this post, its mostly for Standard D&D, and i agree with you that a DM can tailor a campaign.

Now in another thread(that i can no longer find) i had a discussion on the main 'roles' that a party should have filled for your average campain. While the point of the discussion was more so players could construct a well rounded party, it also illustrated the fact that the game NEEDS certain roles filled.

Take healing for example. Sure you COULD run without a healer, but its expensive and difficult and the game obviously was designed for someone to heal.

And if you plan on doing the Dungeon part of D&D- You need a Rogue. Or a Beguiler nowadays... But you need that trapfinding skill. Sure a Cleric can cast Find Traps... but again, hardly a solution. SOmeone needs to be a skillmonkey.

You could run an all straight rogue party... but a Nightsong Enforcer, Nightsong Infiltrator, Arcane Trickster and a Shadowbane SomethingorOther will be a lot more effective in a 'standard game'. Because, really, in 'standard D&D'- you need magic. The design of the game assumes you have access to things by a certain level to deal with appropriate CR. NOw, the latter party is still a 'rogue party', but so much more.

The problem with the '4of the same thing' type party is no one has thier own chance to shine. Everyone does the exact same thing. And thats no fun, to me anyway.

Now I agree that Magic outpaces NonMagic. Again, this is D&D history/philosophy- Mages Rule, Fighters Drool. Elminster is Ed Greenwood's ALter Ego afterall, a Mary JAne if there ever was one. And what do you expect from a game designed by bookish geeks?;) The game is still evolving(See Bo9S), and this is one of those bumps.

I also agree that Divine Trumps All- but if you think thats bad, the pre 3rd ed was worse. NO ONE wanted to play the cleric. You might as well have played a walking Wand of Cure Light Wounds, because A) your party wouldnt let you memorize anything else(and no spontanious conversion!) and B) They wouldnt let you in combat either. Today's overpower is the patch- sure they are overpowered in comparasin, but thats the only way someone will play a healer- which as i mentioned, the game is designed to have. Problem is, some of the old guard STILL wont want to play a cleric;)

And thats thing- the game is filled with players who have played the previous versions and have habits(as you suggested). Not that those habits arent borne out by the newer versions, because the designers too have the same history. If you arent aware of the pains of pre3rd, i will tell you how impossible it was to gish, or even play a swashbuckler type charater. The game just didnt support it!

I agree also with the IDIC philosophy of character creation- but i will say again some roles just need to be filled. And the 4 boxes of F/C/M/T are actually helpful for that. At some point you are going to mix it up in close combat, and somebody is going to need to do it. Now you dont have to be the Sword and Boarder... you can be a Swashbuckler, or a Chain Guy... but unless your DM is really accomidating, your not going to get away with ranged combat your whole career.

Now, to me, i can still see the lingering effects of the 4boxes in your examples. Especially the first one. But you have moved around the roles, which is one of the reasons i posted the Party Roles thread- to learn options to give my players. Let me explain.

Lets take some D&D roles -Face, Traps/Skills Guy, Utility, Blaster/range, Tank, HEaler, Scout, Survival.

Now, lets say i wanted a party who could do all of that. As a group of 4 players, how do we divvy roles?

Well, we could go your Traditional Sword and Board buff guy, Cleric, MAge, and Rogue with Survival skills. But lets see what else.

Hmm, Survival could be Ranger, Druid, or Rogue type. SKillmonkey? Aforementioned Beguiler or Rogue. Face could be Cleric, Rogue, Beguiler, BArd. A high dex swashbuckler can do the tank role, or a chaintripper, and of course a cleric.

So ok, lets say we want a forester campaign. A ranger, rogue, druid and mage could work great. The ranger could be built as a tank. Or not, maybe ranged. Maybe the druid is your tank, or maybe he is your utility? WHat im trying to say is that there is a lot of variety and workspace even in the 'traditional roles'

ALl this is a very round about way of saying that i still think the "4 box" is still a useful paradigm for character creation IF you open up to the idea that certain 'roles' can float. I will end with examples from my own campaign(and go to bed, as im sure this post has become less coherent)

War Campaign- This a friend ran with the Char Creation stipulations of No Magicusers. I ran a TWFranger/rogue Nightsong Enforcer, a friend made a Chain Fighter, and another made a archer. As we were around level 9- this game required much NPC support, and you could tell the game was heavly edited by the monsters we did and didnt fight. Fun though, with the tactics. And using the cannonfodder...

Pirate Campaign!- Hexblade(Board updated)/Rogue/Scarlet Corsair, Druid...Something, and a Bard(Shantys donchaknow;))
The Scarlet Corsair was our Flank/Tank type. Druid was more 'heavy artillary' and survival skills, and bard was buff/face/heal. Bard and Corsair shared skills duty, and druid would heal on occasion.

As my playing group usually has on DM and 3 players, we usually have to rely on a NPC to round us out, but we traditionly like to cover all the bases, and if possible have backup/doubleups just incase a guy goes down
The only essential party member is a healer.
It kind of reminded me of one of the party which I played in
I played a LN half-orc monk , there was a Fighter and a rouge , We totally lacked both arcane and divine powers but we were kicking som butox;) (and also potion of cure light wounds was what we were always buyin )
The only essential party member is a healer.

You're probably right about that. Any combination will work imho. Some combinations make adventuring easier but I enjoy the challenges of a strangely mixed group. Lacking a healer though and the fun factor on the game tends to drop a bit.
The only essential party member is a healer.

I don't even think that's essential, if the DM is cooperative. There's no reason the party couldn't commission (or the DM couldn't include as treasure) a healing item that's usable by anybody. Or the party could spend a good chunk of treasure on healing salves. Or UMD+wands of healing.
The only essential party member is a healer.

Depends what you mean.

My first 3.0 D&D group consisted of:

Elf Ranger/Rogue (me, the character that had the name "Zherog" originally)
Elf wizard - my wife, heavy on evocation spells
Half Elf sorcerer - also heavy on blasting damage
Human Diviner/Loremaster - focused on keeping things occupied while the rest of us killed it; spells like hold person/monster, wall spells, and so on

Our only healing came from my character's Use Magic Device skill with wands.

As for specific encounters... sorry, my memory isn't that good. That game ended before 3.5 came out. I know we kicked a lot of ass, and didn't bother taking names (we were too busy kicking ass ;) ).

John Ling

Lead Pathfinder Developer for Frog God Games

I currently DM the following:

Roven (think Gnoll) Ranger - Deceased (ogre killed him with critical)
Half-Elf Barbarian
Human Barbarian
Elf Wizard/Sorc (going for Ultimate Mage PrC)
Human Cleric - who will only heal party members if they attend morning 'mass' for 5 minutes as he regains spells.

So no Rogue in this party.
I don't have a lot of time here, so I'll be brief.

You claim you need trapfinding, and I agree. That means that you need something like a rogue, beguiler, ninja, scout, or so on in the party.

However, just because you're playing "a ninja" doesn't mean he's a carbon copy of every other ninja. It doesn't even mean he's in the archetypal thief role!

Take a look at the two sample games RT mentioned above. In Eclipse, our trapfinder is relatively fragile, sneaky, and quick -- but the similarities end there, since he can control the battlefield rather well, dish out respectable damage, and provide a lot of in-combat healing. In Fire, Water, Smoke, mirrors, the trapfinder is as often an arcane caster, a divine caster, a woodsman, or a warrior. In one of those forms, he (actually she, but the identity is male) is actually primarily a reach fighter, complete with heavier armor and polearm, but remains capable of spotting traps, secret doors, and similar, and handling them. (If his armor remains a problem, the WIZARD is actually trained in sabotage, so providing the DC isn't too high he can disable some traps as well. Talk about breaking shells? A wizard who can handle traps without magic!).

Similarly, look at those two games for healers. In both, the majority of healing comes from Touch of the Shadow Sun -- that is, our 'thief' in Eclipse, and our 'tank' in FWSM. Point to the cleric in either game. The closest you'd get is FWSM's 'thief' if she's in the divine focus mode, or PERHAPS the ardent ("psionic cleric") in Eclipse, although he only knows the weak Touch of Health power (as described above, he's more of a heavily-armored enchanter/diviner). No cleric, and in one game there's no-one in a class that even RESEMBLES cleric... and yet we get by just fine in the healing department.

Just because you need a skill from one of the four boxes doesn't mean you have to play the stereotype from that box. Doing so only stymies creativity, unless the best your imagination could come up with was Variant Of Dwarven Fighter Number 36.

I'm interested in the nonstereotypical approach. You may need all the skills, but you don't need all the classes or role stereotypes.

Cancer prognosis: I am now cancer-free.

Weekly Optimization Series

Show
These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

[RT] Captain Charisma: All she wants to do is dance (Hybrid (melee/support), SAD, Theme (criticals), Theme (flex-style)

[TS] Assassin's Speed: A blade in the crowd (Melee (technical), iaijutsu, SAD, theme (Assassin's Creed), tutorial)

 

Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft

 

Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

Running a campaign with:
13 Cleric
13 Druid
13 Mage

That's it. The cleric is the front man in combat, along with the druid's animal companion.

Dealing with traps is interesting. Lots of 'I trigger it with Mage Hand from across the room' type stuff, lol.

My Homebrew Website: www.freewebs.com/thyatia/

"It was a great tactic, and our GM applauded us. Sadly the Werewolf burst free in only two rounds, and killed everyone but the Sorceress who teleported away with only one arm." - Tetsuoh

"Having absolutely no ranks in any knowledges, my beloved Ric Flair based monk/rogue took off running immediately and attempted suicide by jumping off the bridge we were fighting on." - spitewrathhatred

"He asked me how old my character was (I said 82), and then rolled what his maximum age was. Because the number he rolled was less than what I had said, he informed me that my Bard was dead, and that I needed to make a new character." - King_of_the_Pudding

Running a campaign with:
13 Cleric
13 Druid
13 Mage

That's it. The cleric is the front man in combat, along with the druid's animal companion.

Dealing with traps is interesting. Lots of 'I trigger it with Mage Hand from across the room' type stuff, lol.

Yeah, but who is detecting them?
Really, it isn't the Fighter/Rogue/Priest/Wizard model, it's more the Fighter/Skill user/ Spell user model. The problem is that, if a party leaves one base of Warrior/Rogue/Spellcaster uncovered, it means that the kinds of endeavors they can succeed at are limited, too. As a DM, you must either accept that your players will fail a mission or three, and you either need to scale back your mission scenario, or just let the players fail. Given that failure usually means the end of the campaign, it's hard to let the PC's go off and do that without some warning or tweaking.

A party of all rogues means that bulldozing the unstoppable engine of destruction won't do it -- there needs to be another means of victory, or a means to let PCs run away to start new somewhere else. 4 Fighters means that they've got to bulldoze the opposition, before that opposition gets off its will-save spells and destroys the party.
Dragon Shaman
Marshal
Fighter
Samauri
Ninja
Rogue

Big group. Very little to no healing. Healing to 1/2 hp was taken care of by the draconic aura. I had to make sure there was plenty of time between "missions" to account for natural healing. It was a lot of fun having very little arcance AND very little healing.

Lots of auras and melee going on. I believe they are level 6 or 7 now and everything is going well, though we've lost the fighter to life.
The only essential party member is a healer.

Shhh! Don't tell that to my Thur. night game....
We're comprised of a barbarian, a ranger, a bard(me) and a sorceror. All single classed, all human, and all by choice.
Our healing capabilities are very limited; several potions of various strengths, 1 fading wand of cure light, the bards own cure light spell, with each character having ranks in the basic healing skill.
Could we change this by multi-classing? Or buying more healing equipment?
To the first one, yes. Yes we could. But it's not going to happen becuase we're playing actual characters, not just optimized stat blocks. Of the four of us, the only character who might possibly have some character driven reason to travel further down the "cleric" type path is the ranger. But I really doubt that'll happen.....
As for the second? It's not that we intentionally don't carry much. We'll often stock a second wand & a few more potions. But right now? Other than looting our foes, we're nowhere near a source of resupply. Even the smallest friendly village is a week+ ride away, there's nothing to be gained there, and we've more pressing bussines deeper on into enemy territory.
But overall this is NOT a party that relies upon constant healing effects(even when more are available).
What it IS is a party that relies upon making carefull plans & simply playing intelligently.
I hate to say this, CCS, but "playing actual characters" does not preclude multiclassing nor does it preclude optimization, and multiclassing does not prevent you from playing actual characters nor does it turn you into optimized stat blocks. You can optimize and still play an actual character.

I should post up some of our logs from our earlier games -- you may note that two of the eight characters listed at the top have four separate classes in them, and all but one have two. This doesn't stop any of them from being realistic or deep characters.

Playing a single-classed character doesn't make you a better roleplayer. It just means you're playing a single-classed character. Playing a multiclassed character doesn't make you a worse roleplayer. It just means you're playing a multiclassed character. Playing an OPTIMIZED character (who can be single- or multiclassed; if you don't grasp this, then you don't understand optimization) doesn't make you a better or worse roleplayer either -- it just means you're playing a character who is good at what he does. And why would you want to play a character who sucks at what he does? You can't roleplay if you're dead.




I apologize for the off-topic.



While not directed toward CCS, I would also like to stress that this thread is not about playing parties with a different set of four classes. This thread is about playing characters that abandon the Warrior/Mage/Priest/Thief rut -- either by going without one or two of the roles, or by blending the lines between the roles, or by tackling one or more of the roles in an unusual way, or something totally different. Having actual play experience related is a big part of this, as it shows that a party can not only function but thrive if it breaks with tradition.

In the example games in the first post, Eclipse blurs the lines between tank/healer/face, sneak/healer/control, warrior/scout, and caster/face/tank, while FWSM blends tank/scout/healer, warrior/caster, caster/controller/sneak/face, and sneak/tank/healer/support. While some characters may be easier to categorize into one of the four basic archetypes than the others, very few are exclusively that role. We also approach these roles in unconventional ways -- in particular, look at how each group approaches tanking and healing. You'll see a distinct lack of armor and a definite "deficiency" in divine magic, but it works, and works WELL (well enough that the DMs can be as violent or as deadly as they want and the team still emerges without casualties). All without the stereotypical "box" roles that the game subtly brainwashes people into believing are necessary.

If you cling to something simply because "it's always been done this way", then you might be surprised at how successful some nontraditional approaches are.

Cancer prognosis: I am now cancer-free.

Weekly Optimization Series

Show
These are NOT all my creations! The lead authors are identified as follows: [TS] Tempest Stormwind, [AR] Andarious Rosethorn, [RT] Radical Taoist, [SN] Sionnis, [DH] DisposableHero_, [SH] Seishi.

[TS] The Pinball Brothers: Large And In Charge (Melee, Lockdown, Charge, Juggling)
[TS] Ashardalon Reborn: I Will Swallow Your Soul (Melee, Fear, Negative Levels, AoE, Theme)
[AR] "A"-Game Paladin: Play That Funky Music, Knight Boy! (Team Support, Melee, Theme, Single-Class)
[RT] Uncanny Trapsmith: Get in, make it look like an accident, get out. (Skillmonkey, Stealth/Scout/Infiltration, Unorthodox Methods, Theme)
[AR] Wizsassin: *Everything* is permitted. (Spellcaster, Support, Sneak Attack, Utility)
[TS] Phantom Rush: General Gish Gouda. (Gish, Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Early-Entry PrC)
[TS] Storm Knight: Another kind of gish. (Melee/"Gish", Theme, Setting-Specific(Eberron), Unorthodox Methods)
[TS] Inevitable Nightmare: The weapon you only have to fire once. (Melee, "Unorthodox" Methods (no charging), Reliability)
[AR] Captain Constitution: The number one threat to America. (Melee, TOUGHTOUGHTOUGH, Defense, Theme)
[AR] Nuker: I casts the spells that makes the peoples fall down! (Spellcaster, damage, blasting, damage)
[TS] Dread Lord of the Dead: Let the Reaping Begin! (NPC-only, Variable (combat/casting/leadership), Iconic Villain, Theme)
[AR] Heavy Crusader: No Rest. No Mercy. No Matter What. (Melee, Damage (No charging), Variable, Theme).
[TS] Gun Fu: It's bullet time (Ranged, THEORETICAL, Twin weapons, Theme)
[RT] Face First: We should talk. (Psionic, social, mind-control, info-management)
[SN] Chaingun Porcupine: Never Enuff Dakka. (Ranged, Skirmishing, Spike Damage, Incarnum)
[RT] Always On Edge: The Mortal Draw deals death. (Melee, Generalist, Dungeoneering, Stunt)
[AR] Feral Druid: Real feral taste. Zero druid calories. (Melee, offense, damage, murder)
[RT] Rusty!: Man's Best Friend (Sentry, Support, Backup, Rearguard)
[RT] The T3 (Tashalatora Triple Threat): My Kung Fu is More Powerful (Hybrid, Flex-Function, Melee, Caster)
[RT] The #1 Snoipah: Boom. 'Eadshot. (Caster, Theme, Spike, Trapscout)
[AR] Dreamblade: Rest in Pieces. (Melee, Damage, Single-Class, Combo/Momentum)
[AR] Evasion Tank: “When fighting angry blind men, is best to stay out of the way.” (Melee, Tank, Unorthodox Methods (attack negation), Theme)
[DH] Psycarnum Warrior: ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA Start (Melee, Tank, Psionics, Incarnum, 1337 h4x)
[AR] Heavy Weapons Elf: WHO TOUCHED MY BOW? (Ranged, Cohort, Damage, Unorthodox Methods (ranged ToB))
[RT] Gnowhere Gnome: A little man who wasn't there (Caster, Stealth, Single-Class, Elusive)
[AR] Uberflank: I got your back. (Melee, support, stunt, teamwork)
[TS] Flip the Bird: Everyday I'm shuffling (Ranged, harrier, unorthodox methods (ranged ToB / off-turn movement), support)
[DH] Eat Sleep Gank: Real Ultimate Power (Stealth, Assassination, Spike, Magic Versatility)
[AR] Slash and Burn: Mind, Body, Blade, Flame / Aspects of a greater whole / which delivers death. (Melee, Theme (flex-style), Damage, Stunt)
[RT] Edge of the Light: Cut, Fade to Black (Melee, Defense/Offense, Momentum, Tactical)
[RT] Quiet Murder: Cut throats, not corners. (Melee, Stealth, Harrier, Tactical)
[TS] Wand Overdrive: Say Hello to my little friends. (Caster, support/artillery/variable, wand specialist)
[RT] God Hand: What did the five fingers say to the face? (Melee/Gish, Unarmed, SAD, Theme)
[AR] Zero Buff Time Gish: Try to keep up! (Gish, Speed, Movement, Opportunity)
[TS] Robo Tackle: I Am Iron Man. (Melee, setting-specific (Eberron), positioning, theme, stunt)

[TS] Holy Fire: Just getting warmed up! (Casting, damage, theme (fire), theme (sacred), blasting)

[TS] Groundhog Mage: ♪Let’s do the time warp again♪ (Casting, stunt, setting-specific (Faerun), spell stamina / versatility, spontaneous wizard)

[RT] Captain Charisma: All she wants to do is dance (Hybrid (melee/support), SAD, Theme (criticals), Theme (flex-style)

[TS] Assassin's Speed: A blade in the crowd (Melee (technical), iaijutsu, SAD, theme (Assassin's Creed), tutorial)

 

Want to see how the entire group rolls?
[All] Party Optimization Showcase: Dead for Nothing
[TS/RT/AR] Optimization Article: The Flash Step
[RT] Optimization Article: Kung Fu Witchcraft

 

Seishi: I think it might be fun to have a one-off [game] tuned fairly, but with the intention of wiping the party. 

DisposableHero_: if [my campaign] has taught me nothing else, it is that with this group, nothing tuned fairly will ever wipe the party

RadicalTaoist: I've been throwing **** at this group that's 5 levels over CRed in DFN, and have yet to wipe the party.

All without the stereotypical "box" roles that the game subtly brainwashes people into believing are necessary.

Subtly brainwashes? Aren't we being a little melodramatic?

The book lists cfrw as a suggestion and presents it as the "default party". That's it. Some people may well be happy to play the game on its default settings. Most people are going to customize to some extent. The fact that the core books include things like "Monk", "Bard", "Mystic Theurge" and "Arcane Trickster" shows me that from the very begining that the intention was to allow players to customize their characters in ways that didn't fit the default cfrw formation.
Heavy Rocks
Never been a part of the 4-man setup, mainly because there were 3 players, but I doubt we'd have gone down that route anyway - none of us like cleric/wizards - so we'd usually all multiclass, with maybe one dedicated warrior.

Not once have I ever been in a group with BOTH wizard and cleric present, and we seemed to get no just fine.

It's just a matter of 'thinking outside the box(es)!'....
Personally, I don't care if the entire party is comprised entirely of fighters or rogues or whatever.

The world is already set. The bad guys are there. The monsters are there. I do not change the bad guys or obstacles based on what the players have. If the players feel themselves to be fighter weak, they can easily hire guards to go with them. They need a cleric? They can ask and while they are making a substantial donation to the temple, they must be (or lie convincingly) that they ar good followers of stated god.

The party is always able to collect some info on who they are facing. If they can't or they are putting it together and they get fubared, that is their problem. It is the same as IRL. They get to learn about the NPCs in the game. They don't want to learn, they can die in ignorance.
I'm in a two-person group:

Half-elf gestalt rogue/urban ranger (second-story burglar)
Half-elf gestalt rogue/sorcerer (occult detective)

As you can see, no healer. A wand, a couple potions and an occasional trip to the Jorasco enclave does it. It's a sneaky, mystery- and puzzle- solving, urban campaign, and the higher priority is not getting hit in the first place. Thus, I don't have a lot of examples of these two dominating in combat.

However, the sorcerer did once pull off a sneak attack on an escaping cultist, got a nice crit with his rapier, and nearly murdered the poor chap in one hit. Luckily, the cultist survived to be turned over to the watch, or the sorcerer would have become very unpopular with the authorities.

I guess that's another reason this campaign doesn't see a lot of combat. Murder is a crime.
My first party was ranger, paladin, monk, and then a rogue who didn't last very long.

My second party was sorceror, wizard, cleric, and the cleric had more natural strenght than wisdom.


Now that I think of it, I never played the iconic 4 party.

Actually, I agree in the fact that tank/trapguy/divine/arcane is pretty rare, especially since

The 4 man party thingy is just a sugestion, not a rule. It's intended to help new players to survive. It's much easier to each player to just focus in one class and duty in the begginning(heal, blast, fight, skill use) than making a multiclass jigsaw with rules from a dozen supplements.

Yeah, I know that you can build them, and I know that you can roleplay well your druidX/wizard Y/obscure class Z with alternative rules from book G, togheter with homemade rules 785, but guess what, other people must start somewhere, and I think saying go cleric and take the healing domain is much simplier than having to read the 2000 pages worth of fixes, fallaccies playguides, and god knows what else around here you some of you think it's essential to play the game.


My current party, ironically, after some bizzarre twists is now composed by ALL the core fullcasters plus... a fighter. Yeah, 2 druids, 2 clerics, sorceror, wizard and fighter. Altough we rarely are able to get everybody togheter at the same time due to university work.
Oh, and the fighter doesn't feel overshaddowed in any way.
I would like to extend an invitation to everyone else on these boards to tell me about your (roughly) four person parties that didn't fall into the paradigm of four boxes to organize characters with. I would especially like to hear what innovative tactics and approaches to problem solving you were able to come up with when you built parties this way.

So here is a 4 character party which I played with as DM. I do know not if it will be percieved as innovative and it is surely not optimized, but it was fun to play and I think it is sufficiently out of the box to present it here. The campaign took place in a homebrew setting and involved lots of tactical challenges as part of a multi power group struggle in a border kingdom between two large empires. The amount of intrigue and number parties involved added the necessary element of surprise which usually lead to a good amount of unexpected combat encounters (some of which I might provide later, if I find the time). The campaign started at level 2 and finished at level 16.

The WindGhosts rely mostly upon stealth, deception, mobiliy and surprise whenever possible, hence their name. However they have usually enough versatility and flexibility to adapt to most situations on the spot. Apart from that they have access to a lot of low to high level casting and three of the four are also capable melee combatants. For quite some time in the medium levels the party comprised only three characters (Thalia, Lysander and Fexer) and although the fourth character was missed the goup fared quite well nonetheless.

The Windghosts


Thalia Morrigan (South): Illumian rogue / chameleon / swordsage / jade phoenix mage

Thalia is the party "rogue" as far as trapfinding and the disabling of devices are concerned. She is also an excellent infiltrator and information gatherer. However, she actually prefers to enter melee together with Fexer and Zyram whenever possible. Although her tanking abilities are very limited, she uses now her double aptitude class feature to great effect, combining battle focus and ability boost and sneak attack with (most of the time) arcane spellcasting. As an Illumian she uses Dex for bonus spells for all her spellcasting classes "freeing" secondary abilities and providing a good number of bonus spells. She has the highest "natural" Con score of the whole group as well as the most heavy armor. Since entering the JPM PrC she uses her spells mainly to power her arcane wrath ability. In contrast to her twin brother Lysander, she has a hot temper and while highly intelligent is quick to act, preferring to be "planning by doing" as she puts it.
(I allowed her to qualify for JPM with her cameleon abilities as a houserule)

Lysander Morrigan (North):Illumian wizard / shadow adept / incantatrix

Lysander is Thalia's twin brother. He is the tactical brain of the group, a brilliant perfectionist. He conforms mostly to the "classical" arcane caster role.
He focuses heavily on illusion and divination. In combat he uses more or less exclusively battlefield control spells and debuffs. He also likes to use veil on the party to set their appearance up for whatever the task at hand requires and to lead opponents towards false tactical decisions. One of his favorites is to play the role of Fexer's wolf animal companion.

Fexer (West): Halfling monk / druid / master of many forms / swordsage

Fexer is the primary melee combatant of the party and also an excellent tank due to his double Wis bonus to AC. With the Yodalla's Sense feat for Wis to initiative and fast wildshape he is not only usually the first to act in most combat situations but will be also in "good shape" for the situation. While he does not have access to high HD forms yet the selection plus a few low level maneuvers is sufficient to make him decent in melee and ok at battlefield control. He can also heal himself or others if need be. Most of the time Fexer plays the role of the scout or infiltrator, often together with Thalia. His large selection of wildshape forms makes him also a kind of "joker" for unusal tasks or group tactics. He so far never used an animal companion. Oh and he usues VOP. Think of that whatever you like ;) .

Zyram Crane (East): Catfolk favored soul / iajutsu master / paladin

Zyram is silent, stern, and dark, but nevertheless the motivating heart of the group as well as the party face in most situations that require diplomacy rather than trickery or intimidation (although he is quite adapt at the latter if neccessary). He is the second nominal melee character after Fexer, but in fact he is often third after Thalia. Since he does not wear armor, his tanking abilites are limited. His strength lies in devastating surprise attacks using his high initiatve and iajutsu focus skill together with catfolk pounce and increased speed. He has rather low Str and Con but compensates for that with excellent saves as well as healing and buff ability from his spells. Since the campaign world does not conform to the strict D&D alignment system, Zyram follows a different albeit not less strict Code of Conduct than the standard paladin and is also not lg (more ln).
But, see! You are taking four clerics and jamming them into the 4 boxes. Why not four heal-bots? Why not four High Priest types?

Because the healbot party would suck at killing things, and 4 high priests, unless of the same faith, would be at each other's throats constantly.
I'll contribute! We have no party to speak of.

Human Arcane Hierophant (me)
The leader of the Gatekeepers. His goal is to kill the Hexblade and save the world.

Human Renegade Mastermaker
The leader of "Cannith North" - a group that split off from Cannith West. His goal is to unite the Cannith. He's friends with the Hierophant and Merrix.

Necropolitain Variant Sorcerer
Formerly a kalashtar. His goal is... was to hoard. He's still a homicidal maniac, though.

Demon Hexblade
He was a human who became half-daelkir, who became human, who ate a thousand tortured souls, then became an Imp, and then became an unspeakable horror. He's still a PC. He cut out the heart of the kalashtar PC and reanimated him as a necropolitain slave. His goals are to kill Hierophant and Monk. And to conquer the world.

Half-daelkir VoP Monk/Cleric
Lawful Good half-daelkir are still insane aberrations. He led a monastic order before Hexblade kill them all.

Elf Dervish
He's an adventurer.
Had a party of 6 which consisted of every class that has the Trapfinding ability.

Rogue, Scout, Ninja, Spellthief, Beguiler, and that one class from Complete Scoundrel.

Lots of sneaking around and skill use.
I ran a game once where I house-ruled that the four player group would consist of a fighter, wizard, rogue and cleric. We used random encounters and only played in pre-written adventure modules. Everything was not just RAW, but the classic D&D stereotype. It was a fun demonstration of how far from "D&D standard" our games normally are.

That game lasted for a few session before we finished laughing and said, okay, now let's get back to our normal style of gaming. We've never been in the four boxes except as a joke.

Now we'll usually have someone in the group who can fight, someone who can do magic, someone who can heal people and someone who has lots of skills. But there's no guarantee that's 4 people with standard classes, hell maybe that's all just in the one character who is a gestalt bard/fighter.

So to my mind, there are no boxes to break.
I did not mean to forget this thread, and I will put in the FWSM example combat soon. I apologize for letting it go.

Good to hear the boxes weren't as omnipresent as I first thought.
The only essential party member is a healer.

Actually I've found that the healer's role has largely diminished in 3rd edition, due to the power of use magic device and the ability to get CLW wands. A paladin or ranger with a CLW wand in most cases is just as good a healer as your cleric.

It's only when you need common resurrection where the healer's role once again becomes important.
I've played the Game of Rogues... It was great fun, if a little weird at times.

The only Arcane caster was my bard, the Cleric/rogue often refused to heal people, the Rogue/Fighter avoided Melee and the best Sneak was the main Melee guy.

It was a swashbuckling kind of game, and extremely Monty Haul. We all had insanely powerful magical stuff for out level, most of which was designed by the DM. We all had Bluff, Sense Motive, and Innuendo (was 3.0) maxed or near it, so no one was "the" Face, we would all gang up on NPCs that we wanted things from. Our teamwork in verbal encounters was much better than in combat, usually. We could also sneak as a group, which gave the DM fits a few times.

Xilonel- The my female Elven Bard, often frivolous, prim one minute and sexy the next, casually invasive of other's privacy yet very polite, and not above using her looks and Fascinate to get her way. Often used Prestidigitation to surround herself with the sweet scent of wildflowers. The only character without Rogue levels, but the only one with Slight of Hand and Open lock. Was the only character who would engage in both Melee and Ranged combat in almost every fight. Had a very nice magical long bow of distance and many Ammo types and a much less impressive Cold Iron rapier. When in Melee she would use a third party spell called 'slipping the ranks' that allowed her to teleport in 10 foot increments once per round, usually providing flanking or aid-another actions, though a few times she 'borrowed' the magical melee weapons from other players if they became incapacitated or ran away. Played the role of 'Nice cop', always reasonable and understanding when we were verbally ganging up on NPCs. Also primary provider of 'cure light wounds' and other healing.

Peroudus- male Half-elf Aristocrat/Rogue who would 'try anything once'. Financially savvy but with an unfortunately tendency to go on ill-advised shopping sprees. He was a charmer, fast talker and faster runner-away. Possessed a nice +2 mithral chain shirt and a Wretchedly Overpowered +2 Keen Wounding Adamantine Rapier of Uber-doom (Designed by the DM) which was capable of killing trolls without fire or acid. The Aristocrat's d8 helped him with HP, which was good, because he was the only primarily melee member of the party, ducking in and out with Tumble and using the Cleric's summoned critters or Xilonel for a flanking buddy. He had the highest will save in the party... but the player could not role higher than a 5 on any will save, ever, so that did him little good. He could dish out damage in a fight, especially when the flanking came into play. In verbal confrontation he was the fast-talker, often confusing the target to soften them up for Xilonel's 'requests'.

Dumont- Human LN Cleric of Boccob/Rogue.. the Archeologist, I kid you not. He took a feat to make knowledge skills class skill for all his classes and maxed a bunch of them out. He also maxed Search and Disable device and would go on dungeon crawls like they were archaeological digs. He pretty much refused to go into Melee, using Summon monsters for pretty much every situation that came up, from tripping traps he couldn't disable to granting him cover against enemy archers. He refused to heal party members that didn't go along with his meticulous plans unless it was life threatening (Except the bard, who he had a crush on and no chance with), and he would use that death-watch spell to check first. Total ass, was left behind by the other party members several times. In verbal battles he was the 'just the facts' straight man. The rest of us would bend those facts around to make them seem to say something different, but he was meticulous about telling the truth... if not all of it.

Dessa- Half-Orc/Half-Dwarf (home brew, yeah!) Rogue/Fighter who looked and acted like a barbarian despite being quite literate, with an affection for poetry. You'd think she'd be the tank, but no... she had these Flaming Dwarf Throwing Axes Of Returning... So she would stand back with the arrow firing/singing bard and the Summoning/Buffing Cleric and just throw these things into combat, yelling "Geese!" to warn Peroudus that they were incoming. Her skill set was the more physical side of rogue (Jump, climb, balance, sneak, etc) but she was still fairly crafty. Her role in the Verbal attacks was the Paranoid Madwoman, making threats and accusations iun equal number. She would accuse NPCs of trying to cheat us, lying, stalling, waffling, confusing the issue (when we were the ones really confusing the issue), indecision, Lack ofwill power, betrayal, adultery, treason and anything else that came to mind. She was generally was the 'Bad cop'.

I don't remember to many specific combats in detail, though I do remember using falling boulders to great effect in a counter-ambush that we'd bypassed because we could all sneak effectively, and turning half the hired mercenaries of our opponents to our side of the fight in the middle of battle.

I am trying to figure out those 'spoiler' boxes used the the Original Poster, but have failed. Sorry.
In the current Planescape campaign I'm DMing the party composition is the following:

-Drow, psion 9

-Half-orc, barbarian 2/ranger 9

-Human, spirit shaman 11

-Half-celestial human, psychic rogue 7

-Gold dwarf, divine bard 4/fighter 1/battlesmith 1/deepwarden 2/dwarf paragon 1/hammer of moradin 2


And it's working out swimmingly.
-Drow, psion 9
-Half-orc, barbarian 2/ranger 9
-Human, spirit shaman 11
-Half-celestial human, psychic rogue 7
-Gold dwarf, divine bard 4/fighter 1/battlesmith 1/deepwarden 2/dwarf paragon 1/hammer of moradin 2

Spot the optimizer.
In a homebrew-world PbP game where multiclassing was all but banned, the following party worked well:

Halfling Spellthief
Maenad Warlock
Half-Orc Druid
Elan Wilder

Melee was an extremely rare concern, due to tactics, and everyone in the party had some capacity to heal, while 3 of 4 could take a turn as party face. The 4th, the Druid, was Plan B when melee actually came up.