One thing that 4th edition D&D introduced was a codefied set of roles for characters to fulfill within the party. The roles were the Defender, Striker, Controller, and Leader.
After our last podcast, I started thinking about what roles a player might fulfill as part of a gaming group. I came up with the following.
The Rules Lawyer is the player who knows the rules the best. Whenever a question about the rules comes up, this player is quick to settle the dispute. I tend to equate the Rules Lawyer with the role of Striker. You can get along without one, but the game can bog down and turn into a grueling slog. It’s rare for a party to ever consider not having at least one Rules Lawyer on the team.
The Secretary is the player who keeps track of what has happened in the game. This player takes notes, and can often remind other players about important details that happened several sessions ago. I equate the Secretary with the Controller. Often, this role is the first to be considered non-mandatory, but without someone meeting this need, a game can derail into a mess of searching through DM’s notes, or maybe a wiki on Obsidian Portal.
The Instigator is the player who breaks down the door when things start to get boring. The instigator will drive the plot forward, and often set the pace. I equate an Instigator with a Defender. Defenders are often the first in the room, setting up the front line, and setting the pace of an encounter. If you don’t have an Instigator, you may spend 5 minutes standing outside of a door in a dungeon, debating 3 different courses of action, which all end up boiling down to ‘open the door and kill things’.
The Glue-Man is the player who keeps the group together by filling in cracks. When the DM gets into a fight with the Rule’s Laywer, the Glue-Man keeps the peace. When the Instigator breaks down a door and finds that they just walked into an overwhelming trap, the Glue-Man keeps people from blaming the instigator for biting off more than the party can chew. The Glue-Man is like a Leader, making everyone perform their jobs better, and shoring up weaknesses. Many people consider a Leader to be the must-have-role for a party. The same goes for a Glue-Man.
There are a few secondary roles that may also bolster a party of players.
The Mapper will draw out maps as a party traverses a large dungeon, or can sometimes draw embellishments on tactical maps that create a more interactive environment. Having a mapper in the party can help make a boring 10×10 room into a den of cultists with altars, pools of radiance, swirling vortices of elemental energy, and decaying corpses of ritual sacrifices.
The Storyteller builds up the story of the world and the adventure. The Storyteller will also often break up a mundane tactical encounter with fantastic descriptions of mundane actions. Storytellers don’t just swing their sword at an orc. They sucker him into lowering his guard with a feint, and then drive their steel blade through his neck, and use his now lifeless body as a shield against an incoming volley of crossbow bolts.
The Artist will sometimes spend time drawing sketches of characters, or important scenes. This generally happens when the player feels their character can’t contribute strongly to whatever scene is currently taking place. Some DMs see this behavior and think the player isn’t paying attention. Don’t make that assumption lightly. Allowing an Artist this expression may be what keeps them interested.
Lets talk about how these things mix and match a little.
I had an Instigator who was an Artist as the secondary role. When it was time for combat, this player burst in and set the tone for intense combat encounters, but would then retreat into the Artist role during non-combat scenes.
I had a Glue-Man who was a Mapper as a secondary role. Whenever I broke out a grid, I could ask this player to draw me something like a temple ruins, and as I set up minis, got stats up, and rolled for my monster’s initiative, he would sketch out an amazing layout with me providing slight nudges to get what I needed for the encounter I had planned.
Between sessions, the Secretary can then document events, update Wikis, and email players with updated group treasury numbers.
I had a Rules Lawyer with a Storyteller secondary role once. It was awesome, because this player would keep the rules flowing, and still describe amazing scenes as he took his character actions.
GM – Yes, the GM is a player, and he can fulfill these roles too. The GM should be a little bit of everything above. The GM knows the rules, pushes the game forward, generates maps, keeps peace between warring personalities, and tracks the history and future of the game. In short, the GM is the Bard class.
Tell me about your players, and what roles they fill as part of the party. Are you missing any specific role? How has it affected your group? Do you have a role that I’ve missed? How does it fit in with the rest of the party?