>Author’s Note: This article is intended primarily for a few friends of mine who have expressed an interest in joining in the game I’m planning for this Halloween season. I hope that you all enjoy yourselves tremendously, and offer this in the hope that you’ll be able to think a little bit about what sort of role you might want to play for the game. Enjoy!
RPG’s (“Role-playing Games” for those who are just joining us) typically divide a team of characters into four types of basic roles. These roles could be filled in any number of ways, but they offer some generalizations that might prove useful. While primarily of use in combat, they also have certain implications in non-combat situations. Each one complements the others in particular ways, and together they make teamwork amazing.
The four roles can be expressed a number of ways. Since the game I’m running is 4th Edition D&D, I’ll use their terminology – it works very well. The four basic roles in combat are:
Defender, Striker, Leader, Controller.
Here’s a brief overview of each one and why it’s important – and why you might enjoy playing one.
Defender: Some people refer to this role as the “Tank,” or the “Brick,” depending on genre conventions. Basically, this is a character who is built to take a hit and keep hitting back. Heavy armor that actually protects his/her body, and possibly even a shield are hallmarks of this role. The Iconic defender is our idea of the “Knight in Shining Armor” with a shield and sword. In D&D, there are many kinds of defenders, including the Fighter, Knight (a special kind of fighter), and Paladin.
A defender’s job in a fight is to draw the attention of any enemies, and keep it. They stand out in front, shielding their squishier allies – like the controller – from harm. Or, as Shelly Mazzanoble, “Player-in-Chief” at Wizards of the Coast and author of Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress, “The [defender] is the first into battle, the one who yells “Stand back!” before realizing that the rest of you have already locked yourselves in the bathroom.”
Defenders endure. It’s what they do, and it’s what they’re good at. They’re often strong physically as well as athletic, and since they have to keep the attention of multiple foes, they’re pretty good at multitasking.
If you’re the kind of person who likes the idea of protecting your friends from harm by drawing it on yourself, or who doesn’t mind being the center of attention, you might enjoy playing a defender.
Striker: Strikers are focused. In combat, they target a single opponent and hit as hard as they can, aiming to defeat that foe as quickly as possible before moving on to the next one. They’re also often tricky, approaching a problem – or a monster – from unique angles in an effort to keep from being targeted themselves. Most strikers use agility, stealth, or magic to avoid becoming the targets of groups of monsters, since they often can’t take a hit nearly as well as they dish it out. That’s what the defender is there for, after all!
Most strikers, like the Ranger, Thief or Rogue, are lightly armored – and armed – in materials like leather, with a much greater emphasis on mobility than on actual protection, per-say (I’d go so far as to say that most ‘fantasy armor’ for female characters places them firmly in this category). However, some rare strikers, such as the Slayer build of Fighter, can wear much heavier armor and may carry massive weapons, like the Greatsword, while the Warlock is an iconic striker who uses spells to defeat her foes. In other words, strikers, like most other roles, come in all shapes, sizes, and styles of dress.
Examples from literature might include Legolas, Batman, Severus Snape (actually most of Hogwarts, now that I think about it), Red Sonja, Electra, and most of the Femme Fatales who show up in spy movies. For that matter, James Bond.
If you see yourself as the type who likes to break problems into manageable chunks and deal with them one at a time, like high numbers, have unresolved anger issues, or enjoy having unexpected tricks up your sleeve, then you might enjoy playing a Striker.
Leader: Leaders are an inspiring presence in any situation, and their abilities make them particularly good at lending aid to their allies or hindering their enemies. The leader classes are generally more focused on working toward the good of the group rather than individual glory. The most iconic example of the Leader role in D&D is the Cleric.
Yes, that’s a religious title. Clerics, like Paladins and certain other classes, are given their powers due to their faith in a god or an ideal. Faith is a powerful force in the worlds of medieval fantasy, for good or ill. And yes, a Cleric could conceivably be called on to give a sermon at a local church. Or to heal the sick, perform an exorcism, or drive off undead like zombies or vampires.
Other types of leaders include the Warlord (a military commander type of character), or the Bard (who inspires his/her allies through music and magic while fighting with sword and spell).
In addition to their abilities to heal and inspire their allies, Leaders are also fairly effective at moving their allies around the battlefield and generally doing a good job of maintaining order while setting a good example by taking the fight to the enemy – either through spells, prayers, or weapons.
Clerics, and most leader types, tend to be fairly well armed and armored, though not as heavily as the Defender classes. They are generally strong willed, personable, and insightful.
If you enjoy the idea of putting the group first, offering words of wisdom and advice to those who need it, or actually influencing the outcome of a situation through prayer (in the Cleric’s case at least), then you might enjoy playing a Leader. Alternatively, if you’re the person people look to when everything goes all to hell, you might enjoy playing a Leader.
Controller: And I thought finding a picture for the Defender was hard. . . female mages tend to be drawn as dressing more impractically than any other type of fantasy character. Granted, they also have the easiest justification to do so, seeing as they don’t DO the heavy armor thing without extensive special training. But I digress.
Controllers are big-picture characters, focusing on the whole battle at once. While Strikers do massive damage to single targets, Controllers will tend to damage large groups at once with their abilities. Many Controllers also have the ability to move enemies around the battle field very effectively or to hamper the movement of foes even further, using powerful magics to punish them for stepping in the wrong direction; the Controller can make it even harder for anyone to escape the Defender’s reach, and shift groups of foes around the battlefield to set them up for the Controller’s area attacks.
The most iconic Controller in D&D is the Wizard, particularly the specialist wizard known as the Mage.
Controllers tend to place high value on intellect and willpower, and often have very strong personalities as well, but they often place more value on their studies and the knowledge they acquire through them than they do on interpersonal skills. Mages in particular also tend to be very fashion conscious, choosing their clothes for a balance of comfort and ornamentation.
Controllers love Defenders, because anything the Defender is distracting is something that’s less likely to go stick something sharp, pointy, and metallic in the far squishier mage. Other roles appreciate the Controller’s ability to keep track of the whole problem, making it easier for them to deal with their portions. Because of their perspective on the battle as a whole, Controllers sometimes play the role of field leader, issuing suggestions (or commands, depending on personality) to other members of the adventuring party.
If you like having everything in its place, approaching large problems as a whole, have any form of OCD, enjoy chess, or have difficulty walking past a Payless without checking to see what’s on sale, you might like a controller.
And if all of those sounded fun to you, you’re either schizophrenic . . . or you’re a gamer.