Andy Collins notes in a post on his forum
“I hate the fact that if I want to play a ranger, or a monk, or a binder, or yes, even a bard, that I have to make sure that all the “normal” bases are covered in the party first, because my class isn’t good at the basic functions that every party needs. The game doesn’t have to work like that.There shouldn’t be “classes that fit in” and “classes that don’t.” There shouldn’t be only one class that really accomplishes a key role (cleric as healer–sorry druid/favored soul/whatever, you’re strictly second-rate). And, frankly, there shouldn’t be classes that fulfill multiple roles simultaneously (cleric, I’m looking in your direction again). If the fighter rolls his eyes and wonders why he bothered showing up, that’s just stupid…and it’s flawed game design.”
I can’t agree more. Too often, it’s been “who’s playing the cleric?” in my groups.
I’ve played in groups without one of the “role” characters… more to the point, I’ve DMed a lot of them… and it hurts badly. It really does.
There are two roles that are really crucial. I think they come under the heading of “Tank” and “Leader” in the new game, but really they’re “Tank” and “Healer” in 3.5e
The Tank is there to protect the weaker members of the party. The Tank is the character all the monsters need to get past to get to the Wizard. Fighters, Barbarians and Paladins can handle this role pretty well in 3.5e: either high AC, lots of hit points, or both. Clerics do it as well. Tanks tend to deal a lot of damage back as well, but their primary purpose is to hold back the enemy and give everyone else a chance to act. Because sitting there and taking it is a passive role, there hasn’t been a problem in giving them an active role as well: hitting things.
If you’ve ever seen a party with a rogue, ranger, wizard and druid, you’ll have seen how badly the tank needs to be there. Perhaps the druid has done it with his animal companion, but when you have the rogue and ranger trying to make the best use of mobility, the wizard suddenly finds himself without protection. Nasty. This was happening for one reason or another in my Savage Tide campaign recently – all the PCs were poor AC save the cleric, and he wasn’t enough to protect the entire group.
The Healer is there to get the PCs back up after the fight – or keep them going in the middle of it – and remove all those pesky conditions (ability damage, drain, energy drain, poison, etc.) that actually enrich D&D a lot by being there. The trouble is, the Healer’s role is an active one – it takes actions to do the healing – and it’s really, really dull in a combat. So, it’s changing a bit (lot?) in 4e. It’s being recast as the Leader, and able to perform healer duties without sacrificing all the PC’s actions.
Apart from that, there tend to be non-combat roles (versatility spell-caster; trapfinder) that need sharing out a lot more. I think that’s happening as well.
I really need to talk to Rich about his cleric in the Savage Tide game, because it’s not as effective as it should be, and Rich needs to be able to *do* things in combat.