The PHB suggests that all adventuring parties should have at least one PC representing each of the four roles: controller, defender, leader and striker. Most parties, in my experience generally follow this guideline. But what happens when this balance is disrupted. What if your party make-up is missing some of the roles? How will that affect your game?
When you’re playing at home with your friends you have a lot more control over who’s playing what class. Often you’ll decide on complimentary classes while creating new PCs. But during public play you don’t have this luxury. When people meet to play a LFR game for example, you’re stuck with the PCs brought to the table. Sometimes you get balanced parties and sometimes you don’t.
I’ve played in three recent adventures where the party roles were extremely lop-sided. The outcome was a little bit surprising, but each of the three games provided valuable lessons that I’d like to share. The first two situations happened at GenCon, and the third happened during a home game.
In my very first game at GenCon (a level 7-10) we had five strikers and one leader. Two of the strikers were ranged, three were melee. A party of strikers turned out to be a lot of fun. We had mediocre defenses and no way to mark foes, but we still dominated in battle. By attacking hard and fast the monsters dropped so quickly that the lack of a defender wasn’t even noticeable. If anything, it was disappointing to have so many strikers because we killed all the monsters so quickly. The leader did a great job of healing the few wounds we sustained. I don’t know if I’d want to play in an all striker game long-term, but as a one-off adventure I’d be happy to give it another try down the road. I’d strongly recommend that players try a striker-heavy party make-up at least once. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to making D&D feel like a video game.
In the second game (a level 11-14) we had four defenders, one striker and one leader. This was a very different experience then the five striker game. We had no problem controlling the battlefield since four characters could mark opponents. The real problem was damage output. Because we weren’t hitting for a lot of damage the fights really dragged on. Many of the monsters had recharging abilities and by not killing any of them quickly we allowed them more opportunities to roll for a recharge. Eventually they all started recharging over and over again. Fortunately we had high defenses so even when they recharged we often avoided damage or only took partial damage.
The combat was really boring since none one was willing to move. Each defender went toe-to-toe with one (or sometimes two) monsters and it was a battle of attrition. It wasn’t until a couple of the defenders dropped the tougher monsters that things started to play out like a traditional D&D combat encounter.
The defenders had a lot of hit points, high defenses and a lot of healing surges so after the combat things weren’t that bad. In the end our greatest opponent was the clock. Our 4-5 hours time slot should have given us ample time to complete the entire adventure which included four combat encounters. Because the fights took so long we only completed two. We got about half way through the third fight, but the DM called it due to time.
I’m not interested in participating in any game that has more than two defenders in the party. The combat was long and boring. Defender powers aren’t as flashy or varied as those of other classes. Very few defender powers seem to move opponents around the board or target multiple monsters. That’s just the way defenders work. In the adventure I played there were no skill challenges, but I suspect that we would have failed horribly if any had been thrown at us. I’m glad I tried a game with four defenders, but I’m not eager to try it again any time soon.
This is not a party make-up that I was expecting to see any time soon, but leave it to my regular group to throw me a curve ball. They’ve created a party with four leaders and two strikers (Artificer, Bard, Bard, Cleric, Ranger and Rogue). This is a party that was originally created for 3.5e but was converted to 4e. We’ve only just begun playing, and we may still change one or two of the PCs but for now four leaders is very interesting. The game is heavy on role-playing and light on combat. The roles and classes they’ve chosen are extremely versatile when it comes to skills and skill challenges. They usually try to avoid combat if possible, but when they are forced to fight good tactics, stealth and ranged attacks are their keys to success. The absence of a defender does make the strikers more vulnerable to retribution, but the seemingly unlimited supply of healing available during combat more than makes up for it.
This is nothing like the hack and slash adventure typical of past editions of D&D. If you’re an experienced gamer and you’re looking for a new take on D&D, I’d strongly recommend trying a leader-heavy party.
Of all the roles in 4e D&D it seems that the controller is the one that gets the least amount of love. Their value to the party is often overlooked and even dismissed. I’ll admit that my initial feeling towards the controller was squarely in this camp. But as my characters level and the monsters get tougher I’m starting to see the value of a controller. The ability to attack multiple opponents simultaneously or the ability to move a dangerous foe away from a wounded ally becomes particularly important at higher levels. At GenCon I played with seven different parties varying in level from 1-14. Only one of the parties I joined had a controller (a Wizard). Nobody seems to be playing controllers. We’re currently running a poll asking you what role you think a party can do without and 55% of the responses chose controller.
Is the controller unnecessary? Or do people just not understand the value that a strong controller brings to a party? I wonder how different the results of our poll will look if we run it again in 6 months. It seems that most groups are just now hitting paragon tier. Will the stigma of the controller be overlooked and reevaluated after more players see the value of a controller at high level play?
What do you think? Have you played in a party with four or more of the same role? How has it worked out? And what are your thoughts about the controller? Do they deserve to be overlooked as much as they are?