When we last left each other, we talked about my favorite race in D&D, the Dragonborn. This time around, I’d like to share my thoughts on putting a party together in D&D and how player characters come together as a group. I’m not talking about “you meet up in a tavern”, I mean how a group of friends who are about to embark on a grand adventure filled with danger (and worst of all- the locked door) make characters that work well together without compromising their individuality.
One of the things that 5th edition D&D does well is giving players a lot of variety for putting a party together in D&D. Within all the base classes (Fighter, Rogue, etc) are choices a player can make that create distinct styles of play to accommodate what the players want to do, and also ensure that no matter what classes the group contains, the group can face whatever the DM throws at them. On top of that, each character gets what’s called a Background, which helps put the character together from a role playing standpoint and gives a character a few little details that can help the group as a whole. This variation can allow a group of adventurers, called a party, to maximize survivability without sacrificing player enjoyment.
Putting a party together in D&D – Within all the base classes (Fighter, Rogue, etc) are choices a player can make that create distinct styles of play to accommodate what the players want to do, and also ensure that no matter what classes the group contains the group can face whatever the DM throws at them.
A perfect example of this is Lockpicking. Say you’re party get together and you have a Cleric, a Wizard and two Fighters. Wait, no Rogue? Well, killing monsters will be a breeze but one locked door and POOF, the session grinds to a halt while the Fighters hack away at the door or try prying it open. When putting a party together in D&D, one way the party can help itself out is if one of the Fighters tweaks their backstory to include some time running with a few shady folks. Or maybe one of their parents had participated in a few capers in their day. The Fighter takes the Criminal Background that grants the character proficiency with Thieve’s Tools. Presto, locked doors aren’t the hurdle they could have been and no one had to sacrifice playing the character they wanted.
The same can be done for languages. Say your party has 3 Elves and a Halfling. Well, some Backgrounds can add a language so that Halfling won’t feel left out when the rest of the party speaks in Elven. Or vice versa, one of the Elves takes Halfling as one of their languages to symbolize that they have traveled together for a while and learned each other’s native tongue as a show of respect.
As for when the time comes to kill stuff, character class options can help take up the slack if the party is missing a key role. What are those key roles when putting a party together in D&D?
- Healer: Typically Clerics or Druids dedicate their resources toward keeping the party alive. However, Rangers that focus their stats toward Wisdom and their survive-off-the-land skills make them decent healers. Paladins with high Charisma can heal pretty well too, and their Lay on Hands ability only adds to make up for the lack of magical resources compared to traditional healer classes.
- Defender(or “Tank”): Usually reserved for Barbarians (high hit points and damage reduction) or Paladins (heavy armor, built in self healing), Fighters that take certain fighting styles can up their defenses, impart penalties to attacks targeting nearby allies. Spellcasters that put points into Dexterity can combine defensive spells to protect themselves (Mage Armor+Armor of Agathys or Shield) or focus on Constitution and gain extra hit points (Dragon Sorcery) so when the fight is in close quarters they won’t be so dependent on the Beefcake-Meat Shield squad to keep them alive. Druids that focus on Wild Shape basically get free hit points when they take on the form of Beasts, perfect for soaking up damage that won’t need to be healed.
- Controller: Mostly reserved for Druids and Wizards and their battlefield management area-of-effect spells, their job is to muck up the field and lessen the capabilities of the bad guys to make killing them a bit easier. Rangers have some spells that can limit enemy mobility, Paladins have buff spells and ways to get the enemy to focus on them (even when they really don’t want to). When putting a party together in D&D, a well placed Assassin Rogue can eliminate the toughest enemy on the field before it even gets a turn under the right circumstances, putting the party in the driver’s seat for the rest of the battle (or if the enemy is demoralized they might surrender!).
- Striker: This role is a Fighter’s primary spot, dealing out tons of attacks (and by default, damage), with Rogue and their Sneak Attack bonus being the great equalizer for their lower defence and hit point totals. However, a Warlock that combines Armor of Agathys and Hellish Rebuke (two signature Warlock spells) when hit, or casting Hex on a nasty foe for some extra damage can clear a field of baddies pretty quick too. Don’t discount a Paladin’s Radiant Smite ability, on a higher level critical hit, be prepared to have to borrow some dice form the player next to you!
- Skill Monkey: This is the Rogue all the way. Their skill stats are the best in the game, with Expertise boosting their main skills (or raising up some neglected skills). Bards are a close second with Jack of All Trades giving them a good all-around skill package. Of course, if you take a Human Druid and give them the Skilled feat (granting 3 extra skill or tool proficiencies) amd you’ve got yourself a great base for skill checks on a variety of areas. Perfect for the tough guy heavy parties (low ability scores for key skills due to maxed out physical stats) or a party that’s too Dexterity based lacking good Athletics skills. What happens when something needs to be lifted? Or climbed?
- Smartypants: Wizards know stuff. They are the only class that relies on Intelligence, D&D’s most underrepresented stat. Paladins and Barbarians usually take this as their “dumb stat” but let’s face it, even balanced characters have a least one low stat. What happens when the party has to figure out a complex puzzle? Or needs to think back to their schoolin’ for some tidbit of historical knowledge? Well, Rogues typically put some points into Intelligence to have a good Investigation skill (used for analyzing traps) and the Arcane Trickster even uses spells to enhance their shenanigans. Fighters who want to put some of that magic stuff to REAL use go with the Eldritch Knight option, combining combat skills with some magical defensive measures. If your party has no Wizard, these two options can make up the brainpower when putting a party together in D&D.
- Scary Guy: Warlocks make a pact with otherworldly beings to receive (or steal) power that can manifest itself as a shadowy Hex or something with tentacles, things that can scare your enemies into submission. Barbarians can shout and flex to get their point across in an aggressive way. What about the Paladin? Sure, they usually take the “good cop” role in any interrogation but what happens when you need info fast and ol’ goody two shoes over there is just leaning against the wall waiting to head into the dungeon’s next room of death? Well, maybe they take that high Charisma stat and grab that goblin by the throat and Intimidate it by declaring that their Deity shall rain down holy Vengeance (a more aggressive path for a Paladin Oath) and suffering on every goblin alive. Maybe their eyes turn to fire, thanks to the Bard creating a Minor Illusion? It’s pretty safe to say the info needed will come right quick.
- Smart Aleck: No class in D&D can touch the Bard on this one, but if you’ve got some points in Charisma, I say let the puns fly! Maybe your fighter grew up as a gladiator, so you took the Entertainer Background to enhance some of your social skills. Can you say “catch phrase”? Don’t tell me your Rogue won’t leap out the window AFTER one last zinger to the guards as they chase them out of the nobleman’s bedchamber (a well placed “call me” to the nobleman’s wife maybe?).
- Survivalist: Druids have a strong connection to nature, as do Rangers. Those classes are, at least right now, two of the least used classes in 5th edition D&D. They tend to get outshone by other classes, but any campaign that puts the party in extreme environments they are sorely missed. If you have a Fighter with the Outlander or Hermit Backgrounds, their past experience living off the land can come in handy. A Barbarian tribe would value Nature or Survival knowledge, so some childhood training before puberty hit (and it became all about getting swole) would make perfect sense.
This was a lot to take in all at once, and there are certainly more ways than what’s above that the different classes can have overlapping talents. The trick is to talk things out with your party mates and work with one another when putting a party together in D&D. Sometimes not having a certain skill or ability handy can be part of the fun, but with that dreaded “1” lingering like a dark cloud over every D20 roll the more versatile the party can be the better off you’ll all be. So, have a little “team meeting” before the first session, introduce your characters to each other and talk about where you see your character going.
Above all else, make the character you WANT to make, but don’t short change yourself or your party by not taking advantage of D&D’s efforts to give every player as much choice as possible when building their character. With supplements like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything adding even more options, there’s plenty of room to play the same class more than once and have a totally different play experience when putting a party together in D&D. Happy adventuring friends! Oh, yeah be sure to perform the proper animal sacrifice to the D20 gods for me, they don’t seem to be accepting mine (based on my rolling lately anyhow)……..