The advent of class roles to 4e D&D changed our perception of character classes. All classes now fit into one of four predefined roles within the party: controller, defender, leader and striker. Even though we’ve only had these four roles since the release of 4e last summer, they have become engrained in the discussion of gaming groups.
These four classifications are quickly becoming more than just roles. You could argue that they have become the new default character classes and that the current classes as we know them are just archetypes of the controller, defender, leader and striker. What I’m seeing more often are players deciding to play the striker and select whether they’d like to try the arcane, divine, martial or primal archetype of that class.
My footing may be weak, but I feel there is merit to having this discussion. Each group knows that the optimum party has representation from each of these roles. A balanced party has increased chances of survival over one that isn’t. As Wizards of the Coast releases additional Player’s Handbooks the argument that the controller, defender, leader and striker are the real character classes gains more and more traction.
Recently Scott at A Butterfly Dreaming wrote an interesting post on Developing Roles and this got me thinking more about this subject and the argument that roles are indeed the new classes. In his article, Scott gives the example of a player who wants to create a Swashbuckler selecting the Barbarian as his base class. I want to develop Scott’s idea a little bit further.
Example: Building a Swashbuckler
You have a player who wants to create a Swashbuckler; a daring melee combatant for which there is no existing character class. However, based on the existing classes any of the following choices have the potential to fit the player’s description.
- Avenger (striker)
- Barbarian (striker)
- Bard (leader)
- Fighter (defender)
- Ranger (striker)
- Rogue (striker)
These class choices encompass three roles: defender, leader and striker. The player does not envision the character as a defender or a leader which eliminates the Bard and Fighter. This leaves the four strikers as possible candidates. Any of them will fill the need.
Now the player needs to choose a preference of power source.
- Avenger [Divine]
- Barbarian [Primal]
- Ranger [Martial]
- Rogue [Martial/Primal]
You could easily argue that Rangers should be a primal power source, but I digress. I feel power sources are fairly arbitrary which really only adds to the role-playing aspects of the character. Finally, the player needs to decide which powers best describe his vision of the character.
The point of this example is that the player’s first and most important decision is selecting to play a striker, the class becomes a secondary and somewhat meaningless choice. And this brings us back to my initial declaration that roles are the new character classes.
Do we eliminate the traditional character classes and instead determine our role within the party. From there a power source is selected and this determines what type of character we would create.
I recognize that this argument is based largely on semantics, but we can’t discount how the addition of roles, and to a lesser degree power sources, effect character creation and group dynamics.
What do you think? Am I way off base here or have I picked up on something that we’re all going to be talking about in the coming years? When you create characters in 4e how does the role factor into your decision making process? Do you decide on role first and class second?