Thursday, August 19, 2010

D&D Lessons: How to Play the Leader

With 4E D&D the “roles” are essentially reimagining of classic MMORPG classes. The Defender is the Tank, the Striker is the DPS, and the Leader is the Healer. At least that’s how it appears. Afterall when each class under the role has a feature that allow them to heal their allies, it’s hard not to group them under a single banner, but in truth the Leader is far more than a “healbot”. Healing is a big aspect of them, yes, but they also buff your allies, reposition the battlefield, and enable your allies to make extra attacks at no expense. These guys are the inverse of the Controller. Where the Controllers job was to make sure the enemies lose, it’s the Leaders job to make sure your allies win.

The Leader class is pretty diverse while still remaining fairly grounded in a particular mold, which helps make them perhaps the most unique role in D&D 4E. Were most classes are separated by mechanics and how powers work, a Leader is defined by what particular aspect of a Leader they’re most skilled at. For example, Clerics are by and large the best healing Leaders while Warlords are the best at allowing allies extra attacks. Runepriests are great at buffs, Bards at repositioning, so on and so forth. Point is that a Leader can become perhaps the most customizable part of the party. Say you have a group together and you have a Seeker, a Sorcerer, and a Fighter. With that set up you’d likely want to build an Eagle Shaman or a Bow Warlord who are skilled at granting Ranged Basic Attacks (something your Seeker and Sorcerer will love you for). Alternatively let’s say your party is a Rogue, a Shielding Swordmage, and an Invoker. You’d probably want to play a Bard so you could help reposition your Rogue for combat advantage while helping to move your allies out of the range of the Invoker’s area burst effects. Point is that the composition of your party has the largest impact of which leader will be most effective in your group, so for the player who likes to make his character the perfect fit for the party, Leader is often the way to go.

It’s been noted that a team can survive without each role being filled. A team can live without a Striker, but it just needs good defense as fights will go on longer. A team can survive without a Defender, but they’ll need to cautious about their weaker characters being targeted. However there’s no real substitute for the Leader, and the role might very well be the most essential part to any party. I’d dare say a group without a Leader has little to no chance at lasting without a TPK. So why all the Leader praise? Simply put: Leaders will save your ass. This isn’t opinion; this is fact. There will be a moment when your caster will get surrounded, and it’ll be your Leader who slides him out of danger. There will be a moment when your Defender will take one too many blows and drop to single digits, and it will be your Leader who heals her back to almost full health in just a single turn. Leaders, simply put, keep you alive. They won’t be the ones laying the killing blow on the archdemon, but that’s not their job. Their job is to keep you doing your job.

So how does one play a Leader? It’s not as tough as you’d imagine as long as you keep one thing in mind when picking powers: will this help out my team? As a Warlord you have to think: “Will this power enable my allies more?” It’s easy to look at a power, see it does 4d[W] and marry the power, but that’s not who you are. Instead grab the power that’s only 2d[W] but instead gives allies defensive bonuses for the rest of the encounter, or free healing when they attack a particular monster. When building a Leader you must remain selfless and realize that your job is to make sure everyone performs better. The damage you do is fine so instead focus on the stuff that only you can do. It might require you to sacrifice some really awesome powers, and even take powers that transfer your actions to others, but remember that the job of a Leader is to keep his team playing at their top efficiency. You are the team’s MVP. Losing you is like losing their future. In that respect remember that everyone is going to do their best to make sure you can do your job the best. Controllers will keep enemies locked down and Defenders will keep them occupied. Concern yourself with how best to help your team, and you’ll work out.

Playing a Leader requires a state of mind where the battle is never out of grasp. If you think of your character like a healer, you’ll never get in the right mindset, and that’s essential for playing the role. Don’t think of yourself as some wimpy guy handing out medicine—think of yourself as a general who’s leading the battle. The very essence of the battlefield is shaped by your abilities. For Bards it’s your deceptive magics that throws enemies around. For the Shaman it’s the spirits of the wild whispering orders that change the future of the battle. And my personal favorite, the Warlord who literally commands his soldiers to move and keep fighting just by sheer authority. The Leader isn’t the medic in an army, they’re the General. They see a battle and only see victory. Keep your mind focused on the battle at hand, and no challenge will stop your elite force. Keep your unit alive and fighting at full strength and there’s not a force on this planet able to stop your team.

The Leader role includes the Cleric, Warlord, Bard, Shaman, Ardent, Runepriest, and Artificer. Next time I’ll close off my look on how to play the roles with a look at my favorite role: The Defender. Until next time. Namaste!


  1. Awesome another really cool read. Dude you and spoony have so totally sold me on dand now Im starting my own dand group, I only have the first set of core rule books, but while I was reading the warlord class I thought you could do some pretty cool stuff with the role.

  2. Very educational, very interesting but...

    DUDE. Chris. ROGUE. Not "rouge." What you basically said up there is that you're helping your "french version of the color red." XD

  3. Fucking spell check. I blame Word.

  4. There are classes that can fill in for the leader, the paladin even has the leader-typical twice-per-encounter heal despite being a defender.
    Basically all classes have a secondary role that depends on their build and around paragon tier the primary role can almost be abandoned.
    Also having lots of heals may seem good at first but it leads to very long fights. If the DM wants to really challenge a group and bring them to the brink of death he will have to go through all that healing.
    My group has a warlord, a paladin and a fighter that can heal himself and others through an item. A really demanding fight pretty much lasts for a whole session of 6-8 hours and we also spend most of our powers and healing surges. After the fight the logical thing is to rest and we're back to square one. The DM is forced to constantly keep up a threat that forces us to move on and be more conservative with our powers but still the best fights happen when the leader is not in the fight.