The Seven Party Roles (Definitions)

Since Delve Night is moving from D&D 4th Edition to Pathfinder, I think it’s about time to dig up this thing I wrote years ago, possibly back before Unearthed Arcana, the fourth core rulebook, was even released. Before 4th Edition really put them to words, 3rd Edition had a general idea of roles, though they listed them as “cleric”, “fighter”, “wizard”, and “rogue” (not coincidentally, these are four classes that match the four 4th Edition roles in the original Player’s Handbook). The problem is that these four roles don’t really cover everything that a party needs to succeed in the average D&D campaign, at least not in 3rd Edition and Pathfinder. When I thought about it, I came up with seven roles that players should have to be prepared for anything:

  • Control — Usually an arcane caster, this function is based around controlling the battlefield to limit the effectiveness of opponents. Often, it’s by killing them, but any debilitating effect such as movement limitations, poison, or even dispelled magic effects can work just as well. Examples: wizard, witch
  • Damage — This function is based around damage with weaponry, tactics, or spells. Multiple attacks, large weapons, or simply lots of physical power can all make a character worthwhile in this role, and spellcasters can deal damage in focused bursts or large areas of the battlefield. Example: barbarian, sorcerer
  • Defense — While the damage-dealer focuses on taking the hit points away quickly, the defender tries to keep them for as long as possible. More importantly, every time an attack is aimed at the defender, it is not aimed at another party member. The defender is in a party specifically to take hits rather than weaker party members, and in a world without marks, they usually do this by staying in the front line. Examples: fighter, paladin
  • Diplomacy — The diplomat often has the most difficult job in the party, largely because it’s based on the skill of the player as much as the skill of the character. Though not as useful in combat, a party that can’t navigate NPCs and cultures is making things much harder than they need to be, and some fights are best won by keeping them from starting. Example: bard, cavalier
  • Healing — This is arguably the most important function in a party, as hit points are the second most important resource a party has. A party can grudgingly get by without being stealthy or having a smooth talker, but a group without a healer is far easier to knock out, and unlike the other roles, this role is limited to only a few classes. Healing can also take place beyond damage. When a character is immobilized, diseased, or just running scared, a healer is invaluable. Examples: cleric, oracle
  • Nature — While a need for nature specialization is drastically reduced in urban settings, there is much to be said for the mobility and knowledge granted by focus in this role. The ability to survive journeys is essential in any campaign that involves travel and many that don’t. Examples: druid, ranger
  • Stealth — Not just the inability to be perceived, but also the ability to do it reliably and take advantage of it. Stealthy characters tend to be very mobile, able to dance around on the fringes of combat. Example: monk, rogue

Characters really should be able to fill at least two roles unless the party is especially big, in which case filling two roles is merely a great idea rather than imperative. The usefulness of each role is also based on the campaign; an urban campaign has less use for the nature role, a campaign of high politics has less use for the damage role, and so on.

There are also a few sub-roles. These generally aren’t important enough to devote a character to them, and a party can work perfectly well without them, but they make life easier:

  • Construction — Sometimes the party needs an item that can’t be currently bought. Pathfinder made this much easier than 3rd Edition, since making magic items no longer cost XP.
  • Enhancement — A role devoted to making others better at their roles, an enhancer uses buffs and aids to spread their usefulness around.
  • Mobility — In a world with full-round actions, combat tends to be fairly static. Mobile characters get a lot of opportunity to keep things interesting, especially when they act in ways enemies don’t expect.
  • Knowledge — Having a sage in the party can make all the difference concerning puzzles, strange monsters, or esoteric lore.

I mostly just wanted to get this post out quickly so that it’s accessible for anybody building a Delve Night character or thinking about a Pathfinder campaign. In my next post, I want to go over some of the differences between the role systems in Pathfinder and 4th Edition with examples of how most classes can fill almost every role.

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One Response to The Seven Party Roles (Definitions)

  1. Mario S. says:

    I believe that knowledge is such an important aspect of the game, that it could fit well in the first list. A party that knows aspects of an enemy or town or religion will have a great advantage over their enemies (DR, stuff not to be done, rituals, etc.). One thing I like about pathfinder is that almost all classes have some sort of Knowledge Skill, even the fighter, which is quite nice; so a party could cover this easily. In case nobody invests in knowledge points (yeah, keep dumping that int, Torgart), you could also have plenty knowledge just in one character; I had a witch in level 8 that with just 1 point in all her knowledges (besides arcane, which I had more than 1) I was rolling at +10. The party was amazed at this, although it is not that hard with the nice skill system of pathfinder.

    Now, if you can gather the healer, sage and enhancer in the same persona (following your roles), man , people will buy you food after games.

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