Tuesday, June 8, 2010

DnD Lessons: Roles

Before people start carrying pitchforks, yes I am still working on Inside the Koma episode one. I’m a little over 33% done and it’s a matter of finding time to edit. Likely some will be done tonight, and with luck I hopefully can finish this weekend assuming I don’t get distracted too much—oooh a butterfly…

Anyway, some of you might notice I’m becoming really involved in 4th Edition D&D. From the massive campaign with Spoony, LordKaT, Y Ruler of Time, and the rest, to the side campaign LordKaT is DMing, to the request to start up a third group involving only fans, it may seem like I’ve become obsessed. To be blunt, I have since I’ve really enjoyed the game and never found a chance to play much before, but also because I’m doing research to potentially do a D&D education show with Skitch and (maybe) LordKaT that we can use to help teach people how to play D&D 4E starting with the basics, and moving on to more advanced abilities. I’m playing a lot because I’m trying to get as much experience as I can, and thus I’m also interested in taking and answering questions that any of you might have regarding how to play D&D effectively. If any of you have a question, send it as a tweet to @RolloT or leave a comment here, and I’ll try to answer it. For today I want to respond to a comment by The Lost Sorcerer who wanted to know my opinion on the different roles in D&D 4E, so here we go.

For those unaware, the “roles” in 4E are the different jobs each class is built best to perform. Each role requires a different mindset and a very different play style to use effectively, and they model the roles commonly seen in MMOs (the tank, the healer, the debuffer, etc.). In 4E there are four roles: the Striker, the Defender, the Leader, and the Controller. I will try to briefly describe each role’s unique job, and how best they are utilized.

The Striker (Avenger, Assassin, Barbarian, Monk, Ranger, Rouge, Sorcerer, and Warlock) – New comers flock here for you are welcome. The Striker is the “damage dealing” role dedicated solely to doing damage in loads. Most classes include some way for the character to add extra damage to each attack (the Rouge’s Sneak Attack, the Warlock’s Warlock Curse), and their goal is to bring down enemies swiftly and consistently. This is important because without a Striker a party can face a long battle, and find themselves overwhelmed, but in return a Striker without the party is a target who will be overrun and ripped to shreds. Every lightning bolt flinging Sorcerer needs a big sturdy Paladin in front of him to absorb the blows, and a wise Warlord to move him out of danger.

Again, this is the role most newbies flock to if they aren’t sure what they’ll like. As you’ll notice they have the most options available to play as, and the influence they have on battle is impossible to miss. It’s often very easy to forget that the Defender neutralized the elite boss for four rounds while everyone else picked off the soldiers, or that the Controller nerfed a large number of enemies’ rolls, but you’ll never mistake the Barbarian sundering the dragon’s skull in half. The goal of a Striker is to make sure he does as much damage as possible, but a word to the wise, don’t leap into portals you aren’t sure about. When you’re surrounded by an army of ghouls it really doesn’t matter how many d6s you roll.

The Defender (Battlemind, Fighter, Paladin, Swordmage, and Warden) – My favorite role, but a very polarizing job. To put it bluntly you will either love playing the Defender, or you will fucking hate it with a fiery passion. The Defender’s job is to put herself in the front line of every battle, and make sure the enemy focuses on her and only her. This means two things. One, you are going to be the toughest son of a bitch on the battlefield. On the other hand, you will be the character getting pummeled, and it’s not unbelievable to spend a majority of the epic battle unconscious at the feet of Lord McEvilson. To most, this is an embarrassment, and not very fun, but look at it this way. You know that 3d8 +12 fireball you took to the chin that brought you in the negatives? Yeah, well had that hit anyone else they would have been vaporized into dust. Take solace in the fact that when they heal you after the battle they all owe you drinks for the night.

The Defender is a good role for people interested in always being in combat. The fact of the matter is that most Strikers will stand five squares back from the action, but there’s no such thing in the world as a “Ranged Defender”. Each and every battle you’ll clash swords. When the party faces off against the insidious Demon King, Scribbles you’ll be the guy in his face roaring and cross blades with. Yes, the role is extremely dangerous. Yes, you will often times be a bloody mess. And yes, there’s a very good chance you’ll die, but in return, the party will have you to thank when everyone returns home safe, and you’ll have some sexy new war stories to tell your buddies down at the bar.

The Leader (Ardent, Artificer, Bard, Cleric, Runepriest, Shaman, and Warlord) – Most will initially hear this role and think “healer” and “support”, and with Cleric and Bard in there, it’s an understandable mistake. However, the Leader’s job is much more important than throwing out a heal spell and wishing everyone the best of luck. Instead of thinking of a frail whelp running around in robes tossing magic at his allies, think of tall, noble warrior, dressed in armor, engaging the foe while shouting formation orders to his allies in the thick of battle. Think of a general in the heat of battle rearranging his allies to support the to the moment strategy dedicated to giving his allies the ultimate positioning to ensure they can never lose. THAT is the Leader. He’s the strategist; the mastermind. He’s the guy who looks at the battlefield and shapes it to his will, and with him the battle will always be yours.

Again, going into this class thinking “healer” is wrong. Yes, your job is to provide healing and bonuses to your allies, but those are only one part of your job. When your Rouge has been surrounded by ogres you won’t be “healing” him out of danger. You’ll rearrange the battle to open a path for your ally, and then help maneuver him into a more advantageous position to ensure he’s performing his job correctly. Each Leader class has powers to do it all, but they focus in their own unique ways. The Cleric works well as a healer, while the Bard and Warlord are most effective at shifting the battlefield. Then you have characters like the Artificer who work to increase everyone’s attack and defense then sends them into battle, plus they all have ways to deal damage. Instead of thinking of this role as the White Mage, think of it as the Red Mage: versatile and nearly essential in every battle. If you’re playing the role correctly, then you will never run into a battle you can’t be an asset in.

The Controller (Druid, Invoker, Psion, Seeker, and Wizard) – Rounding off the list is the opposite of the Leader, the woman destined to bring down the opposing army with a smarmy grin on her face. This role is tough to use, and the most underrated as many teams can survive battles without one, but an effective Controller will ensure that her effect is felt on the field. With massive AoE (Area of Effect) spells, she can clear out the tiny minions to help free up the battlefield from these pests, and then when the vile Demon King, Scribbles appears she will drop enough effects on him to neutralize his hellish powers. Think about it, the Orc Barbarian only finally manages to free himself from your immobilization spell and now charges at you. Suddenly his mind is assaulted by horrors that distract him enough for him to miss his major attack. Then next turn the Defender greets him with a battle axe to the brow, and all you have to worry about is the blood you’re going to wash out of your clothes later.

That’s an optimized controller. The sad truth is that Controllers will often find their well laid out plans completely destroyed by one minor effect. There’s nothing more irritating than having a perfect line of sight to drop your vicious status effect inducing Daily on a big group of enemies only to have your Fighter run into the fray and getting in the way of the attack. As tempting as it might appear, it is bad form to attack her. But sometimes sacrifices must be made, and certain feats will even help to make such a situation advantageous. A Controller’s job will be to make the DM’s life an utter nightmare. When he wants to do something, it’s your job to deny him. As the Leader will ensure your team wins, it is your job to ensure the enemies lose. Don’t become distraught if you aren’t very useful in a given fight. You will be remembered always for the time you turned a helpless battle into a hard fought victory.

Those are the roles in a nutshell. It’s hard to define a role completely when each individual class has a unique way to do its job. For example while a Swordmage is a Defender, their job isn’t to engage an enemy like everyone else. To detail how each individual class performs their unique job would take too long at the current moment, but hopefully by reading this you will understand which role might best suit your playing style, but I would recommend that you task a risk and try something new!

Well, that was a quick lesson on roles. If anyone has any questions regarding anything else about D&D, again send me a message @RolloT on Twitter, or leave a message below! You can ask about any of the classes, races, mechanics or anything. Want to know how to build a character? Ask here. Want to know something about formation? Ask here. Ask anything and I’ll do my best to help. Until next time friends. Namaste.


  1. Oh good, Psions are back? I loved them in the previous 3.5 edition. Didn't have much chance to play with them, tough, lots of DM don't like them that much...
    How are they in D&D 4th exactly? Much less agressive, I guess, but I'm still curious. :)

  2. Hi Chris, i've watched the last two streams of your big campaigns on sunday and found them very entertaining despite having a slim grasp of what's happeneing, how would you advise someone completely new to D&D to get started?

  3. Taking into account your suggestions, I have made 2-3 characters. I was just wondering if maybe you wouldn't mind taking a look at the one I would like to use for the D&D session you are planning?

  4. @Talden They are, and to a degree they're powerful, but they play differently. The Psion, Ardent, and Battlemind lack Encounter Powers, but possess Power Points that allow them to modify their At Will powers for better use, and the Monk's At-Will combine a move and a standard action so she can make use of them both in and out of combat which is pretty cool. Hopefully once Psionic Power comes out we'll get to see guys even more powerful.

    @Treg When I do the D&D Show, that'll be the first episode, but the first thing to do basically is get the Player's Handbook, read it, and then try to find a group either online or in person. I might go into more depth at a later date.

    @Darkninmagic You can send me the sheets and if I have time I can look at them, but if you could, download PDF Forge and make them PDF files so I can view them on my breaks.

  5. I've got a bit of a question: As my way of easing into a d&d setting without seeming like a noob, I've been making a horde of characters on the Character builder, but as I've been looking them over, I notice that I either simply choose the one the Player's handbook recommends, or chose one that, if it has a utility, I can't think of what it might be, so my question is, How can you tell if a power(s) will be useful without just C/Ping other builds.