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How to Form a Balanced Role-Playing Party

This is a guideline and not an ultimatum for forming a role-playing party.  On this page is advice from my experience in role-playing for countless hours of campaigning fun.  The reader may head this advice or do as he or she chooses. 

What is a Role-Playing Party?

A role-playing party is a small group of people that work together using  skills, abilities and knowledge to help aid them in fulfilling their quest.  There are many quests that a group may seek to accomplish depending on how the game director writes the background story.  Of course the characters in a band of role-players must first be brought together, before a quest may be started.  A quest could be as simple as rescuing a maiden from being held captive or as complex as preventing a war between two kingdoms.  All of this story driven campaigning is left in the hands of the game master, which will incorporate what the members of the party bring to the game.  Skills may include fighting, weapons, thieving, survival, and others.  Abilities may be magical, changing form, resistance to outward forces that easily affect others, immunity to hazards, and others.  Knowledge is always useful to a party and may be about culture, layouts of enemy areas, familiarity with special items, history of civilizations and more. 

 

SKILLS

Fighting – Whether it’s fighting monsters, surviving an ambush of bandits, or a misunderstanding between others, violent encounters will occur and fighting skills are always useful in a party of adventurers.  All players can be more effective in combat if they are proficient in at least one melee weapon, like a sword, axe, or dagger, depending on what the rules allow for each class of player.     

Weapons – Although training in various melee or projectile weapons is very useful, let’s not forget the value in creating, repairing, or modifying weapons.  Forging blades and repairing broken steel, damaged in battle, is useful to traveling adventurers who do not want to rely on a blacksmith everywhere they go.  Arrow making will fill an archer’s quiver and benefit him indefinitely when his stock is low.  And let’s not forget the craftiness of picking up every day things and improvising weapons at a moment’s notice, whether they are blunt or sharp objects.   

Thieving – Picking locks, disarming traps, and taking things unnoticed are skills that can be frowned upon, yet aid a party in tight situations that cannot be solved by a sword alone.  There are times a party may have to get past a locked door or open a special chest for there is no key available and picking the lock may be the best option, especially if they do not want to attract attention from others by the noise of breaking a door down or smashing a lock.  When adventurers seek out treasure in dungeons, there is a chance that a trap may be placed upon a chest and knowing how to disable the trap could save the party from injury or imminent death.  Stealing small objects from a person or within a room full of people is sometimes necessary depending on the situation.  For example, acquiring the keys from a guard posted in the dungeon level of the castle would prove useful to a party in freeing a member who was wrongfully imprisoned.   

Survival – Most campaigns in role-playing require party members to cross rough country on foot many times and having the knowledge and training to endure the wilderness is always helpful.  Finding shelter or building a temporary one, such as pitching a tent will allow the party to rest in the forest until they arrive at the next town.  Building a campfire will benefit the party in cooking food and keep predators away as well.  Knowing how to extract water and what wild berries or other edible plants that can be consumed will keep party members alive and from getting sick. 

Of course there are many other skills that prove to be very helpful to a party in their quest.  

 

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Magical – Casting spells, using magical items, and sensing magic are all valuable gifts of a mage or other conjuror.  A mage is always useful in a party for they can cast healing spells on wounded members, defensive barriers against attacks affecting the whole party, or other useful magic  to aid the party in completing a quest.  Some characters, who may not be mages, can use certain magical items that will only work for them in a quest, like an enchanted gem that reveals a map only to a certain race of people.  Sensing magic, whether the character is a mage or not, will prove its worth and benefit the group in warning them of a spelled trap or the presence of another mage. 

Changing form – Whether its transfiguring into a totem animal, changing one’s form at will, or transforming into a were beast due to the moon cycle, all abilities of the user have their purpose in the party.  Some races, like elves, have the magical ability to temporarily change into an animal, like a wolf for example which can help the party in various ways.  For example, the wolf can scout for the party and warn them of eminent danger ahead.  Others have the gift of changing their form as the need arises, such as vampires or changelings.  A vampire that can become a bat or mist can easily fit through small openings that the rest of the party cannot do.  Were beasts, like werewolves, are very vicious and resilient in combat and need no weapon to aid them.  The only drawback is some were beasts, while in their beast form, are not so easily controlled and may have trouble distinguishing between friend and foe.   

Resistance to outward forces – Physical or mental, some characters are impervious to certain types of physical or mental attacks that others are susceptible to.  Some characters may have a high resistance to heat or cold and be able to lead a party through a dangerous area without worry.  Others may have a strong mental fortitude and not be susceptible to magical illusions or someone’s hypnotic voice. 

Immunity to hazards – What can easily kill others is not the case with people that are blessed with this gift.  Characters that are immune to poison can help the party by tasting food that may be tainted, walk through a room full of poisonous gas, or in extreme cases become a human shield and take a poisoned tip arrow to protect another party member.  Others may be immune to fire and be the best in the party to deal with a fire breathing dragon in battle.  Of course there are immortals that can set off and survive traps that would normally kill others, like hidden spikes that can be triggered by switches in a dungeon.   

Of course these are only a few special abilities that prove to be very valuable to a party in their quest. 

 

KNOWLEDGE

Culture – Knowing the customs of a society can be beneficial to a traveling party.  When entering an unfamiliar land with a different culture than what the party members are accustomed to can cause complications when they interact with the locals.  If a party member is aware of the local customs and rules of the city than there is less chance of offending someone or breaking a law of the area.

Layouts of enemy areas – A party that has the intent to infiltrate an enemy stronghold will have a better chance of succeeding with this knowledge.  A member of the group that knows how to navigate countless corridors and being able to avoid potential obstacles or traps will add speed to the party’s movement within the enemy area, especially if no map is available to use.  And let's not forget the importance of knowing the location of a hidden entrance or secret exit when the plan calls for it.  

Familiarity with special items – Whether the item is magical, deadly, or something rare and needed to complete the quest, this information can be invaluable to a party.  That member will know the potential dangers that a unique object could possess and know how to take precautions, if the need arises.  For example, an cursed object may have to be contained within a special box to negate its powers of influence on the party.   

History of civilizations – Knowing the past of societies and learning from their mistakes can help prevent the error repeated.  If a party knows why a group or society has a hatred towards another clan, then they will know how to handle situations of diplomacy between the two.   

Of course these are just a few examples of what may be uncommon knowledge to others and will always aid a party in their quest.  

 

How many members should be in a Role-Playing Party?

Role-playing parties may be as small as three members, however I would advise forming a party no larger than six people for good reason.  In a role-playing game the players usually are a small group of people set on a quest to accomplish something in their realm.  I have seen a dungeon master try to keep track of ten to fifteen people in a group on a campaign and I do not know how he kept his sanity in keeping track of all the players while managing the campaign and controlling the actions of all the monsters and other obstacles the adventurers had to face.  With that said this is a party we are talking about not an army.  In essence role-playing is about accomplishing a quest with a small band of people. 

In a fantasy role-playing party there are going to be magical elements, mystical races, and simple weaponry.  The group could be all one race or a combination, like a mixture of humans, elves, and dwarves for example.  A magic caster and/or a person who uses magical items will be present in the party.  Weapons of the simplest design will be used in a quest, swords and axes, staffs and hammers, or bows and crossbows, and possibly pistols.   

 

3,4,5, or 6?

THREE FIGURE PARTY

A three person group should be made up of basically a swordsman, archer, and a mage.  Having only three to work with will limit the choices of class and the skills/abilities must be very diverse in order to balance out the party.  For example, a party composed of nothing but swordsmen will have a difficult time in battling a wizard, since they have no one to perform magic to defend against his attack spells.  When encountering a small group of monsters, the swordsman can handle the close range fighting.  The archer can pick off the other foes further away or possibly aid the swordsman with a melee weapon, if shooting arrows is not practical in the fight.  The mage, who is not usually accustomed to hand to hand combat, may cast defensive spells or attack spells in order to help the group survive the encounter.  If need be he can also cast rapid healing spells to help the wounded. 

 

FOUR FIGURE PARTY

A four person group should be made up of basically a two swordsmen, an archer, and a mage.  Compared to a three man party, obviously the clear choice is to have one archer and mage as before.  With an additional member, another swordsman would be very helpful to back up the other swordsman in melee combat.  The archer is then free to choose in helping the two swordsmen or being a little more selective in picking off out of reach enemies.  The mage can remain in the rear of the party and cast what spells are needed in order to aid the survival of the encounter of monsters. 

 

FIVE FIGURE PARTY

A five person group has more flexibility in choice of class, than a four or three man party.  The group could have a basic setup of three swordsmen, one archer, and a mage.  The additional swordsman would definitely aid the other fighters as well as ensure the archer can concentrate on longer range targets with his bow.  The other choice with the group setup would be to have two swordsman, two archers, and a mage.  The main difference between the first suggested group is the archer has help with his longer range targets.  In either party makeup the mage is protected enough to engage in his spell craft to help the others endure combat.   

 

SIX FIGURE PARTY

A six person group obviously has much more flexibility in choices of class, compared to a five, four, or three man party.  Three possible suggested possibilities exist in forming a party with six members to select and all have their good points and can be determined by preference.  With six to choose it is obvious that three will be a swordsman, archer, and mage by default, which leaves three more to decide how the party will balance out.

If you want to balance the party out by class, then it will have two swordsmen, two archers, and two mages.  The advantage of this kind of group is the two mages can have different classes, such as one could be a wizard and the other a priest for example.  In that way the wizard can focus on attack spells in combat, while the priest can be dedicated to protection and healing spell craft. 

If you want the party to have a balance of melee weapons and archery, then it will have three swordsmen, two archers, and one mage.  The advantage of this kind of group is three fighters can handle the short range enemies, while the archers can deal with the longer range targets. 

If you want the party to have a strong melee weapon presence, then it will have four swordsmen, one archer, and one mage.  The advantage of this kind of group is the fighters can spread out in different directions to face short range enemies.