Sunday, January 1, 2012

THE GREAT DEBATE: Party Engineering.
What is party engineering? That's when the players sit around and "fill in the gaps" so the adventuring party will be well balanced. You know - a little stealth, a little healing, a little magic/tech, a little brawn.

When a group uses this technique you end up with a well-balanced party that's able to tackle any challenge thrown at them. If you let everyone c...
hoose their own class independently you may end up two people from the same class. Unless it's possible for you to distinguish your character with game mechanics within the class, one party member will ultimately eclipse the other party member. "We've got to make a lore roll? I have the highest lore so I'll roll it!"

The down side to party engineering, however, is that the party becomes predictable. Experienced gamers know their roles well. The cleric is the walking band-aid while the fighter is the meat shield. The wizard lobs magic missile and then detects magic after the fight. Why not spice things up a bit by having an intentional hole or two? It takes a creative party to overcome the lack of a rogue or a cleric. It also lends the DM an excellent opportunity to introduce NPC characters that adventure with the party. No magic user? Hire one!

Another downside to party engineering is that somebody inevitably gets stuck with a role that they don't want. If you're launching a long-term campaign, nobody wants to be stuck as the healing potion with legs for twenty levels. Inevitably, there's a rush to declare what class you're going to be leaving the last person with whatever nobody else wants.

So ultimately, in this debate, I fall on the side of individual expression. So what if you end up with a party of all magic users? What a unique challenge! How can you make YOUR magic user unique even though you're in the same class and race as the rest of the party? That's a challenge an old-school gamer should relish.

Where do you fall? Do you prefer a well balanced party from the get-go? Or do you prefer a more realistic, but unbalanced party that will have greater strengths, but greater weaknesses.


  1. I agree. Let the players play what they enjoy. If more than one in a class, no problem. No need for geek drama.

  2. I say let the players play the character they want to play. Classes are now customizable enough that two fighters could be wildly different from one another. Clerics worshipping different deities have very different outlooks on life.
    The gap left in the party is a challenge to an experienced group of players. Let 'em play without a cleric, or a fighter, and see what happens.

  3. I think there is a role for party engineering, although it's not necessarily the one most people are thinking of. The real role is to ensure that each character has a distinct role, something they add to the party that nobody else does better. Which doesn't have to mean the party is the classic 4 man band at all, just that each member is a real contributor in some way. Also, party engineering should get everyone at least close to the same page for power level. D&D in particular is notorious for having absurdly unbalanced classes, if you're starting a new 3e game and somebody is coming to the table with a core monk and someone else is playing an optimized druid, somebody is going to be very unhappy with the ensuing game. Getting on the same page with expectations of power and tweaking characters to suit can go a long way to increasing everyone's enjoyment of the game.