Warstories: Play Your Guy Right!

Posted on October 13, 2010 by

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It seems I started a little bit of a mess on twitter recently by tweeting this:

“What I want to see more of now in #dnd are builds for character classes that break the roles, like the slayer did & the ranger will as well.  I want role to be a choice, not a label of a class.”

Now twitter not being the most ideal place to hold conversations that require a bit of explaining, I thought I’d write about it and frame it as a Warstories article, because these issues affect us DM’s as well.

I’ll start by saying that I’m a big fan of what I’ve seen so far in the Essentials line.  If I were a player, I’d want to play the new Thief.  I like what they did to the fighter also, with the Slayer build.  This is because in my mind, and in all my years of playing D&D 1e & 2e specifically, I always played fighter who did a buttload of damage.  I like the fact that we are getting new builds to existing classes that change the role of the class in combat.  I think 4e needs more of that.

It took me a bit to get used to the fact that the guy who was playing a fighter in my 4e game wasn’t doing nearly as much damage as we thought he should have been, based on my preconceived notions of what a “fighter” is.  Right or wrong, that was my thinking, and to an extent it still is–it’s why I’d play a slayer if I were going the “fighter” route.

Which leads to the context of the article as a “Warstories” piece.  As DM’s, it’s our job to manage the table, and also manage several different personality types all at the same time.  Like it or not it’s part of the gig.

My group is one that’s known each other for years, so there is a comfort zone between them to tell each other things or otherwise be blunt with each other that there may not necessarily be with other groups.  I remember when we started 4e, the Wizard wanted to blast guys and do tons of damage.  He certainly wasn’t too crazy about the amount of hurt he was piling on his enemies.  It got to the point where one of the more tactical players basically had to say “it’s not your role!”.

And that’s what led me to think some time ago about class roles, and their effect on the table.  I think that there’s an expectation of how a player is “supposed” to play a class, based on his assigned Role, and other players expect that player to embrace that “Role” while playing.  As a DM, I often had my game disrupted due to party arguments about what X should be doing versus what he’s doing and that sort of thing.   But what if a player wants to play a “defender””class a certain way, and not just as a marker nor a body to flank for the Rogue’s combat advantage?

We had a Swordmage that was desperately trying to deal damage every round.  He grew frustrated at the fact that he just wasn’t dealing damage, and eventually switched to a Rogue.  Now, he could have just studied beforehand and really looked at the class to see that no matter what, he wasn’t going to get the damage output he wanted, but imagining his guy with a sword, while casting magic seemed cool to him.  That’s fine, I get that.  The problem arose that when he wanted to play him as a damage dealer first, then defender second, he faced the same types of comments from the table.

Some groups sit and discuss  what kind of characters they want to bring in, how they want to play them, and what the expectations are.  Other groups ask “what’s missing, a leader?  Defender?” and bring in a character based on that.

So rather than provide answers, because I don’t have them, I’d like to hear from your groups’ experience with this issue.  Were the formal introduction of roles in 4e a problem for your group?  Do you face these types of situations at your table?  How do you handle it?

I look forward to your responses.  And remember you can find more Warstories here.