Adventuring Party Dynamics

A good role-playing game campaign consists of three components: a good game master, players that get along and work well together, and an often overlooked component: a balanced adventuring party.

In pretty much every genre and setting, there are certain archetypical roles that characters need to fulfill in order to effectively handle any situation a game master might throw at the players.  Presented below are the most common essential roles that span across all role-playing game settings.  It is important to note that there are not sharp distinctions among these roles and any given character may fulfill one or more of these roles.  In fact, some of the most popular character roles in any given setting usually stretch across multiple roles.


The Damage Dealer

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Players often associate this role with warriors and soldiers but it can also include espionage characters, spell casters, and even technology-using characters.  It focuses on dealing damage (either physical or otherwise) and destroying opponents that the player(s) encounter during a gaming session.


This role is almost entirely focused on the combat aspect of a setting and since action and adventure are almost always a given in every campaign, this role is easily the most recognized and covered of all roles; it is also usually the most popular.  


Its popularity also reflects its importance.  Indeed, it is hard to get far in a game without having someone there to kill all of the bad guys that stand in your way.  However, as we shall present in some of the other roles to come, it takes a clever game master to present the players with alternatives to pure violence.


The Tank

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This role often overlaps with the damage dealer role and is also popular among players.  Characters need the ability to take damage as well as deal it and this is where the tank comes in.  The tank acts as a front line character in a battle that can take lots of damage and protect other weaker characters from harm.


As mentioned earlier, this role is often connected with a damage dealer and it is quite common to have a character in a game that can both deal and take lots of damage in a battle.


The Healer

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The importance of this role is often recognized but is not nearly as popular as other roles.  Its primary duty is that of healing, supporting, and protecting other characters from harm.  Since characters whose sole duty is to be that of a healer tend to be weak in combat, blended role characters that act as a tank and a healer tend to be more popular.


But while a character that purely fulfills a healing role can be challenging, it can be extremely rewarding and fun in hands of the right player.  It is also the best role to play if you want to make friends in an adventuring party.  After all, who doesn’t like the guy or gal in the party who looks after his or her teammates and heals them when they are hurt?


The Specialist

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This is the broadest and hardest role to clearly define.  But, roughly speaking, the specialist is any character that is skill-focused.  This role often includes characters such as thieves, scientists, engineers, and scholars.  Depending on the focus of the skills, their role can differ slightly.  Generally speaking though, these characters are useful for those parts of the story that are outside of combat and social situations that instead involve the characters using their knowledge to overcome a situation.  This typically involves repair, infiltration, puzzle-solving, and similar skill based tasks.


These roles are often a challenge for game masters to fulfill as they are often pre-occupied with setting up the next battle for players to engage in but a good game master will recognize the need to challenge the players’ skills.  Doing so makes a campaign much more fun and interesting while at the same time rewarding those characters that focus on specialized skills.


The Socializer

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This role usually gains some attention from the game master but is often neglected by players.  Characters who fill this role focus on socializing and interacting with non-player characters.  This often appears in the form of talking but can also include singing, dancing, carousing, and other skills that make others like the character.  


This role is usually the least favored by players and as such, can be overlooked by some game masters.  But it can be a rewarding role especially when a game master allows characters of this type to further the story or get the adventuring party out of difficult situations by merely getting others to like them.  


The socializer’s strength really lies in the storytelling power of the game master.  The more the game master can steer a story towards character interaction and away from combat, the more fun a player can have with this type of role.



A good adventuring party will incorporate a good balance of all of the above focuses.  And since it is usually the case that no one character can excel at all of these archetypes, it is up to players to work with each other to create a team of characters that complement each other well.


As mentioned above, these roles occur in most game settings and any given character will usually be a blend of one or more of these archetypes.  As such, a good game master will make sure to cater his/her campaigns to each of these focuses and must be mindful not to neglect any of them.


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