Well the new D&D game I’m running started last week. On the whole I’d have to say that it was one of the better first games I’ve had. The players are all old guard gamers who are already starting to work together. (The youngest player mentioned that his first D&D character was second edition. Everyone else at the table laughed. The noob.) This working together thing is something I’m going to have to watch out for.
The game I’m playing in has had a few different looks throughout it’s first two or so years. At first we were fairly chaotic and all over the place. My rogue died and the group tightened up a bit. We started doing crazy stuff likeflanking and other, even nuttier ideas. Still, we were hewing fairly close to the line in regards to threat level and whatnot.
Then the paladin died. The group was suddenly without an anchor. (And I mean that in the most flattering way possible to the paladin!) He rolled up a rogue and I made a wizard to replace the one who had moved to Tampa a couple of months earlier. This is when things started to really change.
You see, if you are in a party that doesn’t work very well together, you’re making the DM’s job too easy. He only has to threaten a bunch of individuals, and they’re easy to pick off one at a time. Say… harder than falling asleep watching golf, but easier than eating with chop sticks. A party that understands each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and who is comfortable letting another player have the spotlight for awhile, is a DM’s nightmare. (In the good way. That being the way that’s good for you.)
But how do you know if your party really is working together? I mean, you guys flank the bad guys most of the time. The cleric heals people. What more is there?
The first thing to do is to look at the casters. There is always a right time for an empowered fireball, but a caster who is just an artillery piece isn’t necessarily being a real team player. He’s a killer, but the thing you’re trying to avoid is competition with your party, even if it is a competition to see who can whack the bad guys first. Depending on your playing style, 30-60% of a caster’s repertoire should be reserved for his own party members. Remember, an ogre can’t save against the strength buff you put on your fighter.
Speaking of which, a fighter is a defensive piece, he’s not just about damage. His job is to stand in front and give your cleric fewer people to worry about healing, use his feats and weapons to trip up, disarm, and generally vex the enemy while the arrows and empowered fireballs fly overhead. If your fighter runs away from his squishier buddies in favor of going for the flashy kill, well, he’s probably someone who has trouble with chop sticks too.
A cleric can be a really great fighter, but in a party who already has one, he’s just another fighter. A good healer, on the other hand, is a force multiplier. A party with a sharp healer cleric can handle twice the enemy as one without. And a good cleric (or Neutral cleric of a good deity) with the silent spell feat and a silence spell will be spelling profound doom on his DM’s biggest, baddest, spell-casting bosses. Even if that boss has silent spelltoo, your cleric will be silently and spontaneously healing a party that the evil boss can only cast a few specially prepared spells at. Just try it once and watch your DM turn purple. Do you know how long he spent picking out all those spells he’s never going to get to use?
Just as clerics gotta heal, rogues gotta stab. But much like the fighter, they can’t get too far afield. Rogues run the biggest risk of all of letting themselves get cut off from the group and ending up standing alone in front of the main villain while the rest of the party is still fighting his henchies. The two things to remember are this. One, you are the fighter’s wing-man. Individually you both have your strengths, but together you make a threat level-chewing monster. Two, the rogue should be the big target for the caster’s buffs. The fighter’s value is in getting hit, but the rogue’s is in delivering the big damage. But he’s softer than a fighter and doesn’t hit as well. Shore him up on these points, and he’s way deadlier than a lightning bolt.
To sum up, the party that works together keeps their DM in fits together. And that’s in the good way.