Some of you have probably been waiting for me to cover Barbarians, Bards, Druids and Rangers, but the sad fact is that I haven’t had much of a chance to actually play with these classes in any system, and thus, have no useful tips on either playing them, or enough to say about countering them. Far too frequently, I have had to set aside a cool concept that I wanted to play with in order to fill in a ‘needed’ slot with a more proven class. If anyone has a lot of experience with one or more of these classes, or anything that I haven’t mentioned here, I encourage you to step forward and share your experiences with the rest of us.
My lack of experience with those classes is an unfortunate side effect of small parties. A good, cohesive group can make a unusual combination of classes work; but very few games start with a group that is in any way cohesive, in or out of character. Strangers need a little time to build into a real group, and mostly, that is time spent in gaining trust and familiarity with their quirks, habits and strengths. A good GM will help this along; encouraging communication and, yes, occasionally acting as mediator to settle disputes that aren’t covered by the rule book.
If you happen to be a parent, new to gaming and reading this, let me assure you that whatever you may have heard about Dungeons and Dragons being a gateway to Satan-worship or whatever fuels your worst nightmares … that is far from true. Roleplaying games teach, amongst other things, teamwork, goal assessment and prioritizing, how to settle social problems amicably, strategy and complex problem solving skills. Many of them will also teach math – how to add random numbers together quickly and accurately – reading skills, and, for play by post games, writing skills. And some of them will also teach your kinds advanced problem solving skills that may include geometry, simple chemistry and how to do research. A number of them will probably end up teaching your kids how to think for themselves, and solve problems, all very valuable skills in today’s workforce. A good group will probably also teach your kids time management and some may even impart useful life skills, like cooking.
Gamers are a strange and wondrous group of helpful, generous, welcoming, happy people who will be glad to enfold you into the family. We’re contagious, and it’s usually a good thing.
Going back to small groups; the fact is that a group needs a few things to be successful. Perhaps not efficient, but successful. The first thing is a plan – ideally, a realistic plan – and the second is the ability to carry it out. This actually means that if your group happens to lack someone who can act as an anvil, or cork – usually a heavy fighter, or some other form of high-damage, hard to damage character – a group can still succeed at their aims, they just won’t be able to approach it the same way a group that has such a character would. A face, or persuasive character with high social skills might be able to turn that tribe of hobgoblins to allies, and thus remove them as point of contention. A stealthy group might be able to assassinate the leader of a warband of orcs, sending them back to their tribe in shame and disarray. They might come back later, of course, but that kind of thing makes for good story.