Do you define your character by his class or his role? We continue to look at roles in 4e and their defining characteristics. We’ve already explored the idea of how to make the Fighter a striker and we pondered whether the roles could be redefined. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to looking at roles. Since this is a new element in 4e perhaps it can be done better. We think there is room to introduce some new house rules around roles, but before we start developing them we thought it prudent to take a deeper look at how the existing presentation of roles affect the game.
As is stands there are four roles available to characters: controller, defender, leader and striker. Wizards of the Coast has given no indication that further roles will become available with future supplements. Currently the only way to take advantage of a role is by selecting the character class its associated with. Each of the character classes is divided up into one of the four roles and is granted certain benefits as class features. It’s those class features that I want to look at now.
Defenders encompass the Fighter, Paladin, Swordmage and Warden. They are physically tough and are able to mark their opponents. Defenders are often referred to as “sticky” because enemies find it difficult to break away from them once marked. The ability to mark an opponent is a feature shared by all defender classes, even though they are all a little bit different.
Strikers are designed to hit single targets hard and fast. They do a large amount of damage to one opponent. All strikers, with the exception of the Avenger, deal some form of additional damage. Be it sneak dice, hunter’s quarry or Warlock’s curse. This extra damage is defined by their role but tied directly to their class.
Leaders are healers. This means you don’t have to play the Cleric to be the party healer. It also means that a party can have several members of different classes capable of healing. Every leader has a class ability that allows a PC to burn healing surges and gain additional hit points in the process.
Finally, there is the controller. Controllers are adept at manipulating the battlefield and devastating their opponents with crippling conditions. They are also known as minion killers. Unlike the other roles, the controller does not have a defining class feature that is shared amongst all controllers. The controller’s feature of affecting multiple targets is gained from the powers they select, not the class or the role. In this they are different than the other three roles.
So what does all this mean? For starters, none of this information is earth shattering. It’s clearly laid out in the PHB and PHB2. However, as we look at the issue of roles and how they can be better implemented we need to ask what defines the role. In three of the four roles we can see that there is a clear role-defining feature. So when we consider if the Fighter can be a striker we need to ask if he would still get his ability to mark opponents if he were a striker. Or does he gain some other benefit?
Does the Rogue who wants to be a brash street thug still get sneak dice if he wants to select a defender template? Sneak dice have been a defining feature of the Rogue class for years, so it could be argued that it shouldn’t be removed regardless of role. The same holds true with the Ranger’s ability to deal extra damage with hunters quarry. Hunter’s quarry is essentially the 4e version of favoured enemy, an ability that the ranger class has had for years.
As we continue to look at how roles can be reworked in 4e, and whether or not selecting role should become a choice made during character creation rather than a pre-designed template, we need to be careful not to remove the defining aspects of certain classes.
When we consider defenders, leaders and strikers it’s easy to identify distinguishing class features. But this does not seem to be true of controllers? As there is no shared power or class defining feature for controllers, what would a Bard gain by foregoing the leader role and selecting a controller template?
Over then next few weeks we will provide a breakdown of the roles as they currently exist. We’ll provide various house rules about how to incorporate roles and apply them to non-traditional classes. The aim of this initiative is to increase the flexibility and usability of the role system and to provide players with more choices.