D&D Classes – Group Dynamics?

After making my last post, I got caught up reading the Legends & Lore columns Monte Cook posts at Wizards.com for Dungeons & Dragons. (I’ve noticed that some of them feel oddly insubstantial, like Cook’s dancing around a larger issue without the time or space to really delve into the issue, but they’re all pretty interesting.)

Anyways, one of them struck me: his article about the group nature of RPGs, where characters work together to solve problems. I found it especially prescient after my last post, looking at bards: the entire point of that class is to make life easier for other people, with its array of buffs, its second-line healing, and ability to dominate and confuse enemies. Clerics are even more tied to the group: they’ve earned their reputation as a healbot for a reason, even though clerics are more. It’s just that their “more” is, again, improving, buffing, and repairing other players.

Needless to say, there are many, many people who consider bard a worthless class. What bugs me are the similar many, many who avoid clerics like the plague, even though they were widely considered the power class of 3.5 (tied with druids for CoDzilla). My current Pathfinder group has a whopping six players, yet so far has had to rely on NPCs and the druid’s wand of cure light wounds because they’ve been down a cleric. So far, two players have shown up asking what the party needs—someone that can heal, buff, and remove negative conditions. Both have opted to play Life Oracles rather than cleric, with the assumption that they have freedom and the reasoning of “because it’s new and I’ve never played one.”

Roleplaying is a social organism, and RPGs require a lot of inter-group support, a level of working together and team tactics that doesn’t exist in other games, not even board games or multiplayer CCGs. The point of the class roles posts is examine how the well-oiled, functioning, D&D adventuring team works, how the classes complement each other and how they stack up to others doing the same thing.

So, my larger question. If RPGs have heavy social dynamics and require a lot of teamwork, why the aversion to the classes that provide the most team support? Is it the cost of a player’s own agency? Is this related to the classes themselves, since there’s been a lot of Aid Another checks and plenty of casting support spells in my group, or is it a representative of a larger paradigm? Or is this only an issue within the tiny cross-section of players (in the 20-50 range) I’ve gamed with? I think part of it is idiot-proof: people don’t want to give up their agency (in terms of impacting the game, macro-scale) simply to support others, but they will act to improve/aid the team as a whole and team-members as individuals.

I really don’t have an answer for that. I do think the nature of D&D does push towards self-supporting groups—otherwise, the roles in 4e would just be variants on Striker and Controller—though I’m noticing my current group does a lot more support duty than my old one. Again, part of it could relate back to the class/level nature of D&D, and the emphasis on those fixed roles; in other game systems—White Wolf, CthulhuTech, Deadlands, FATE—I think the worst class role issue I’ve come across is when two players build characters who end up mechanically identical.

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