Did you know that the Golden Girls were the template for what would be an ideal D&D adventuring party?
With this fun bit of trivia, we’re going to take a closer look at party composition and roles in D&D 5e.
Whether you’re a Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, or Sophia, it’s important to play the character that you want while also being aware of what role that character fills in the party!
What Makes a Balanced D&D Party?
When making characters, there are several considerations to keep in mind. We talk about this in more detail in our article about the ever-important Session Zero. You’ll definitely want to check that out!
But the two primary considerations are “will you enjoy playing this character?” and “does this character add value to the party?”
The first consideration is self-explanatory. If you won’t enjoy playing the character, play something else.
The second consideration is what the character offers the party. Is it a Rogue that can handle traps? A Cleric that can keep everyone healed? A Paladin that can drop massive amounts of damage?
Ideally, everyone in the party fills some role within the group. A party that is all melee damage will find major setbacks when it comes to traps and magic.
Having every character fill key roles within the party gives the group higher chances of success. More successes in overcoming challenges means that there are more opportunities ahead. Plus, it also means that each character will get awesome moments where they get to stand out.
The Benefits of a Balanced Party Composition
First and foremost, a balanced party gets to experience a wider type of story. They can see more of what D&D has to offer! This means that the game will have more variety and have something for everyone.
If everyone in the party can find and disarm traps, your Rogue gets lost in the sauce. Whoever has the highest bonus will always be the one who disarms the trap. If they fail, everyone will dogpile the task. If they succeed, nobody else gets to interact with the trap in a meaningful way.
Conversely, if there is one Rogue in the party who gets a moment to shine by disarming a dangerous spike trap, that player feels good!
Meanwhile, the Fighter is able to shine in combat when putting out high damage attacks. The Bard is able to negotiate and form a friendship with an influential NPC who gets the party some high-paying jobs.
Everybody gets a moment!
Plus, characters’ abilities can work to fill in holes in the party’s abilities. By covering weaknesses in the party’s composition, there are less obstacles that can’t be overcome.
Of course, no party is without its weaknesses. The game would be boring if there were never any challenges to face! But covering as many of their bases as possible makes those weaknesses more subtle.
If nothing else, the party can still overcome those weaknesses with a little bit of improvising in the moment!
Common Party Roles
Generally, I consider three primary roles within a party: Damage, Tank, and Support.
Within each of these roles are numerous options for how that role plays. Realistically, your character likely falls into several of these categories in varying degrees.
A Paladin, for example, can be a high-damage dealer just as well as they can be the party’s Face. But it’s best to figure out what the focus is and then branch out from there. While a Paladin makes for a good Face naturally because of their high charisma, a Bard who focuses on their social skills may be the better choice in most situations requiring people-skills.
Characters filling the damage role focus on what you would expect: damage output.
While there are plenty of important considerations in combat, being able to defeat your enemies is only possible if you’re dealing enough damage!
These are your heavy hitters who bring the pain in combat. Whether ranged or up close and personal, this is the most common role.
Single Target Damage characters are best at unloading damage on one target at a time.
More often than not, the Single Target Damage character will focus on the biggest threat on the battlefield. This may be the enemy caster, the BBEG, or something else entirely. Whatever the case, this character brings the hurt to quickly eliminate whatever the biggest threat is.
AoE / Blaster
Spellcasters who focus on damage most commonly fill this role.
Many of the most famous damage spells in the game like Fireball are examples of this type of character’s role. Large amounts of damage in a large area are what they live for!
Consider how important Action Economy is to D&D 5e, these characters can quickly even the odds for the party. Creatures like Twig Blights aren’t much on the surface, but a horde of twenty of them can be a death sentence for those who aren’t prepared!
With the ability to take out large amounts of enemies in a single round, it’s difficult to overstate how useful a solid AoE damage dealer is!
While the Damage role characters excel at putting out large amounts of damage, the Tank plays a different role.
These characters can take a ton of punishment and shrug it off. They use their abilities to keep enemies’ attention on them while denying positioning to enemies. This opens up positioning options for the party as the Tank makes room for them.
The Meat Shield is most commonly filled by the party’s Barbarian, though Circle of the Moon Druids can make excellent Meat Shields as well.
The Meat Shield’s role is simple but vital: keep the enemies’ attention. They take the damage that would otherwise be directed at their Damage or Support role party members!
A Tank that focuses on Position Denial understands that the side in combat with better positioning will typically win.
These Tanks focus on pushing enemies back, using their abilities to stop enemies from moving, and opening up options for their party.
These characters will almost certainly have the Sentinel feat.
I once played a Monk who filled this role. With the Sentinel feat and his high AC thanks to his Dexterity, he was a blast to play. He could quickly get up to the enemy and engage multiple at a time. If one tried to get away, he could usually stop them in their tracks.
Meanwhile, the party now had plenty of space to work with as they followed shortly behind him.
There are many different ways that the Support Role can be filled.
These are character roles that are important, but mostly serve to supplement the party in ways not directly related to dealing or taking damage.
The simple fact is that your characters are going to get hurt. It’s just going to happen at some point. When that happens, you want to know that you’ve got someone who can help you recover.
Healing is absolute vital. Characters who focus on this do what they have to to keep their party on their feet in combat. Without a healer, the party is at major risk of dying or will have to take more rests, use more Hit Dice, and buy more healing potions.
Few instances are as important as when a character has dropped to zero hit points and is rolling death saves. Healing is always handy, but these are the moments where the party is most happy to have a healer!
Controllers excel at completely shutting down an enemy or group of enemies.
Spells like Sleep or Hypnotic Pattern are often the bread and butter of a Controller character. They allow your party to focus on the enemies that are still active in the combat or dogpile the affected enemies to powerful effect!
While casters are the most common Controllers, many classes have some level of Control abilities. Take the Monk’s Stunning Strike for example. Even shutting an enemy down for a single round has huge benefits with the game’s action economy.
Those who focus on being a Controller are great at helping conduct the flow of combat. They shut down enemies and open up opportunities for their allies.
Utility characters have a way of encountering problems and always having a solution. In a way, they almost become a type of Swiss Army Knife for the party. Utility characters are pretty much always casters of some class or another.
Because of their huge amount of spells, Wizards will very often be drawn to filling a Utility role. By using their arcane knowledge to find creative solutions to whatever challenge the party encounters, they quickly become indispensable.
While such a Wizard may sacrifice some of their ability to blast enemies to kingdom come, they focus on spells that help them overcome whatever challenge the DM presents the party with.
It’s simply amazing how much a seemingly small change can make in combat. Extra dice, resistances, temporary HP… They can often be a make or break factor in your game!
The Buffer knows this.
In combat, they shower their allies with bonuses while also inflicting penalties upon enemies.
More often than not, Bards and some Clerics fill this role in the party.
Bardic Inspiration is one of my personal favorite abilities in the game. Coupling that with spells like Bane and Vicious Mockery that put some serious debuffs on enemies results in an almost disgusting advantage in most encounters.
The Buffer is somewhat subtle in their contribution to the party and will often also double as a Controller.
Much to the dismay of Barbarians everywhere, not every problem can be solved with a sword or axe.
Sometimes, the party needs someone who knows how people work. Whether it’s schmoozing with nobles, quick-talking to avoid making an enemy of the Thieves Guild, or otherwise, the party needs a Face.
Not that there’s likely to be a shortage of high-charisma characters in the party. Bards, Warlocks, Sorcerers, and Paladins all require a great deal of Charisma for most of their class features.
But having someone who has proficiency in the skills of Deception and Persuasion can greatly help the party. They may be able to get the party greater rewards for jobs or end up making an influential friend or two who can provide a favor in a pinch.
The final Support role is what I just simply call the Ferret.
Because the Ferret is great at finding things, this will almost always be the Rogue.
Finding traps, hidden compartments, and other such elusive things are where the Ferret shines. They have the cleverness and finesse required to know what they’re looking for and what to do when they find it.
Particularly if your party plans on doing a lot of dungeon-delving, you’ll want to bring a Ferret along! Otherwise, you may find yourself missing important clues or falling victim to deadly traps!
Conclusion – Party Composition and Roles in D&D 5e
Few characters are going to fit just one role, but most will find themselves primarily specializing in one of them.
When building your character, consider what role they will fill in the party. Also, look out to see if there are other characters that yours might have exceptional synergy with. A Bard who focuses on supporting the party as a Buffer might make friends with a Barbarian who wants to smash things better.
It’s not just synergy in combat that you create with this, it’s some awesome roleplaying opportunity to boot!
By making characters that fill holes in your party’s composition, you ensure that your party is able to overcome more challenges on their adventure.
In no time at all, they’ll look to you and say:
“Thank you for being a friend…”
(I had to squeeze in one last Golden Girls reference…)