As so often with most stories that we know and love as the roleplayers we are, PCs often fit into different roles in the party both inside and outside of combat. This can be planned out before the game starts ("okay, I'll play a melee tanky character so you can get some room while preparing your spells."), to a naturally developed synergy in the party ("Your character is very heroic and has all the good plans - Only natural you be the leader!"), to a party that completely ditches any kinds of tropes and roles and just does whatever the hell they feel like. As a matter of fact, any group will often end up being unique in its own way unless the players are truly devoid of any kind of strategic planning or imagination, or if they play as example characters from the rulebooks... But who does that anyway?
There are, as mentioned, two kinds of roles: What role your character takes in combat (the combat role), and what role your character takes during social encounters (the non-combat role). On top of this, there's also the role the character takes socially within the group and the story as a whole (the story role).
This list is kept on a separate page to keep the Party page clean, and to allow anyone to edit all their poorly/awesome stereotypes free from anything that actually matters.
Remember: while these roles were written with tabletop RPGs in mind you can apply these roles to other types of games to help evaluate the forces you and your opponent bring to the table. For example a Vindicator could be seen as the Meatshield for a Predator tank in the Maxim role, Pathfinders would be a mix of support and nerfer and so on.
- DPS Roles: these are party roles that involve dealing damage and are the life blood of any party focused on combat. DPS, or 'damage per second' a term we were loaned from /v/, are all about dealing damage and reducing the enemies health until they drop down dead. However DPS characters tend to be balanced by having lower defense and health meaning that if engaged they will die quickly. This gives a DPS character two options, either pile on more damage and hope they can kill the enemy before they die, or grab a tank to hold the enemy at arm's length to stop them.
- Nuker: A Nuker deals their damage all at once in one big burst, or 'nuke'. Nukers are often tied to a limited number of activation such as with Vancian magic, a limited pool of resources such as with systems with 'mana' bars or ammunition. This means on top of their softness due to being a DPS a Nuker has to deal with only being able to blast every so often meaning Nukers need to be able to make good choices about when to Nuke or not. Furthermore Nukers, as can be summarized in the title, often inflict damage over an area of effect, and often just called an AOE, meaning they can hit multiple enemies and allies at once.
- Smart bombs: Similar to a Nuker a smart bomb deals a lot of damage all at once, unlike a nuker it's focused and can only destroy one or two targets at once. This is a good and bad thing. It's good because you're not likely to kill your poor tank when your fireball deviates a bit off course. It's bad because while you do as much damage as a nuker it's focused. Example: You are attacked by 5 goblins with 10 hit points each. A nuker could use one AOE ability to deal 10 damage to each goblin at once, while a Smart Bomb could deal 50 damage to one goblin. Both of them do fifty hitpoints of damage, but the Nuker would eliminate all the threats with a casual flick of their wrists. However if the same two wizards were attacked by a troll with 50 hit points the Smart Bomb would be better. Most RPG's have a generic 'wizard' or equivalent class that can take traits of either Nuker or Smart bomb.
- Maxim: Unlike a Nuker or Smart bomb a Maxim (a type of machine gun) deals low amounts of damage but does so consistently and slowly chips away at the enemy's health. Maxims compared to Nukers and Smart Bombs have a number of benefits. Firstly, they are more efficient and don't need to use a death laser damage to knock out one crab. Unlike Nukers they rarely have hard limits on their damage and can keep up the damage even when a Nuker needs to rest for eight hours. However Maxims do have drawbacks, their damage balances out over time but in the short term a DPS does not do nearly as much damage as a Nuker meaning, at best they are taking out one or two targets a turn, leaving the rest intact and able to do damage. Further because they're slower they're a much bigger target, since after they attack they have to stay and keep attacking, giving the enemy time to deal with them.
- Berserker: Berserkers deal high amounts of damage, but unlike other DPS's they have to be close to the enemy do so, often times right in melee range. This means that Berserkers can't fight from safety but must be exposed directly to the enemy meaning that they have to always strike a balance between self defense and damage. Berserkers tend to have higher defense than other DPS but not as much as a pure tank. Note: despite the name Berserkers are more then guys with axes and included in this role are any 'class' in a system that has high amounts of short range damage regardless if they can be called Berserkers, Paladins, or Wizards.
- DOT'er: Damage over Time. A class with a focus on dots can be seen as similar to a Nuker or Smart bomb, (depending on if they can give a dot to one target or multiple) and a Maxim. Like a Maxim their damage happens over time but only as an aftereffect of one attack. A DOT'er may deal five damage with an attack which then does five damage a turn for five turns. DOT'ers become really dangerous if they can stack DOT's and that five damage a turn can become ten, 15, 20 or more per turn if it can be applied enough times. DOT'ers are often wizards in fantasy RPG's but rogues with the right types of Poison can also fill this role.
- Hunter: Deals damage but only deals their highest amount of damage against a limited ranges of targets; be it Evil, Good, Demons, Magic users, Robots, people named Jorge, Hunters have an ability that works best against a narrow selection of targets. if someone is limited in options because the target is not of a certain type that person is a Hunter. Hunters are limited in usefulness to a Party unless they know they will be up against targets of the Hunters chosen specialty enough to make the lower damage against other targets worth it. For example a Rogue or Vivisectionist would be useless in a dungeon crawl against Oozes, Elementals, and Ghosts, as these enemy types ignore Sneak Attack Damage, while a Paladin would find themselves far less useful if they never fought against an enemy with an Evil alignment, or the Undead type. Sometimes Hunters rely on battlefield circumstances rather than enemy types to be more effective in their role; Ambushes, Favored Terrains, Spells that require environmental conditions, are examples of a Hunters ability to play off of the environment rather than enemy type.
- Criter: Some attacks, in some systems, will do, a certain percent of the time, more damage based on the attack roll; this is called a critical success or critical hit. Criters inflate this chance so that all of their attacks do more damage. This has mostly to do with the use of Feats (Improved Critical, Stunning Critical, Blinding Critical, etc), but some classes do gain the ability to stretch their critical ranges, or automatically confirm critical hits. Not to be confused with Hunters who use positioning to deal damage often with an ability called 'backstabs'. While often mechanically similar to Crits, back stab like ability are situational damage and thus party members that focus on this kind of situational usefulness are Hunters.
- Tank: They take hits for the rest of the party. Any damage they can deal is an added benefit and the real focus of a tank is to allow the DPS's to do their thing. Despite the name, tanks do not typically have heavy firepower, they instead focus on using their high durability to take hits for their more fragile party members. Tanks often have abilities that make enemies either want to hit them, block attacks that target nearby allies, or force enemies to hit them, the latter group are often called 'taunts'.
- Panzer: The Tankiest of Tanks, Panzers focus on negating damage. The enemy can hit them, but does no damage to them because their defense is too thick for them to get through: too much armor, dodge, parry, DR/-, etc; the enemy cannot harm a Panzer. These type of defenses tend to be equipment based, thick armor for example, so they can be stacked with Meat Shield (see below) for high health and high defense but not always. A Rogue or Ninja that can dodge anything is also a Panzer since they're absorbing damage without suffering any reduction to their health; if the enemy can hit them, such classes may be squishy. That is what makes a Panzer, a Panzer. If their defense is negated, and they're at an excessive disadvantage, that means they are a Panzer (these guys are called Kites, or Mosquitos to borrow from MMORPG's, *shudder*).
- Meatshield: Unlike a Panzer who negates Damage, a Meatshield eats it up and asks for more. They have high health and so can suffer a lot of damage before dying. On the one hand this means that if what defense they do have is negated they don't care so much since they were not relying on it, but on the other it means that if they get in over their heads, they have no back up plan and all that health can quickly dry up. It also means that they need high power healing to keep them alive for any extended period of time, and not pull a 15-minute adventuring day.
- Paladin: A common archetype, a Paladin combines aspects of a tanks defense with a healer's ability to heal. Any damage they do take they can heal themselves which means that they share some of the party healer's burden. Due to the fact that a character that can both take damage and then heal it off is generally a game breaker Paladins will often feature a "catch". This can be anything from the classic DnD example where a Paladin was forced to act in a certain way or lose access to their nifty powers and become a worse version of a fighter, to a mechanically enforced inferiority to pure healers and tanks (the textbook "jack of all trades, master of none" problem).
- Controller: Controllers excel making their opponents unable to hit the party without drawing enemy attention to themselves like a Tank does. Whether by freezing them in place, coating the floor in grease so they slip, distracting them with a hologram or forcing them to spend turns attacking each other rather then the party a Controller is about controlling the battlefield (hence the name) so that the DPS and other low defense targets can do their job safely; however, they themselves are often rather squishy so they operate best with a Tank to deal with anything that their abilities can't lock down. The line between a Controller and a Nerfer is often blurry since the roles overlap a lot, but the difference is a Nerfer makes an opponent worse at something like attack or defense, while a Controller makes an opponent unable to control where, when, and how they can move and attack, making them easy prey for the DPS's.
- Support/Nerfer: Supports (sometimes referred to as 'Buffer') don't do much by themselves, they make other members of the party stronger (or 'buff' them in /v/-speak) and better able to fulfill their own role. Nerfers on the other hand are the direct opposite of the Support; instead of helping allies, they weaken enemies and render them less able to perform their own roles (and are hence somtimes referred to as 'de-buffers').
- Healer/Curser: Healers are exactly what it says on the tin, people who heal up lost hit points. You can think of them as the opposite of a DPS, a DPS makes the health go down, while a Healer makes it go up. Healers allow a party to win wars of attrition with enemies and mean that lesser challenges don't stack up and kill the players eventually. Cursers on the other hand reduce the enemy's ability to heal making them less able to recover from damage the party does to them.
- Doctor: Healers have the ability to heal, Doctors do not, and carry disposable one use healing items. Sometimes they have the ability to produce them other times they're just the party member the rest give all the health potions to keep them safe while they hit things in the face. They are also the people that stop DOT's nerfs, curses, and other nasty draining effects before they become too much to handle. Where a Healer keeps your HP at a certain level even if your blood is draining away like it's going out of fashion, a Doctor keeps your blood inside you.
- Armorer/Penetrators: Increase the defense of a member of a party. Armorers, despite the name, can also increase dodge chance of a party member. Armorers effectively stack more obstacles between an ally's health and an enemy's damage. Penetrators are able to reduce an enemy's defense and allow DPS to hit home better.
- Whetstone/Sword Beater: the Whestone increase an ally damage, while a Sword Beater, (borrowed from the quote beat their swords into plowshares, from the bible) reduce the enemy ability to deal damage.
- Trainers/Enfeeblers: Trainers increase an ally's base statistics like strength or dexterity. Enfeeblers do the opposite and reduce an enemy's base statistics.
- Quartermaster: Like an Armorer or a Whetstone except they can not use their abilities in a fight, but before it and as such require preparation.
- Burglar: If you've read the Hobbit the name should clue you into what this guy does. It's not just about stealing, the Burglar does all the miscellaneous things that need sneakiness on a 'tactical level', such as scouting, stealing keys, getting into position to set up a ambush and more. Burglars sometimes have limited damage options, but not always and some Burglars can transition into Criters, Panzers if they have enough dodge, or even Berserkers when the fight does break out.
- Chemists: Individuals with little damage on their own, but can make and then use items that can deal damage. Think of them like a man with a bag of grenades, they can deal a lot of damage until they run of grenades, then they need to run off and get more. Pathfinder's Alchemist class is the archetype of this form of play if you decide to focus on their Bombing abilities.
- Entrencher/Sapper: Entrenchers focus taking a battlefield and make it more advantageous to fight on. Depending on how they do it they can emulate other roles. If they use mine like objects they could be considered DPS's, a trap that slows or stops the enemy could be nerfers, an ability that increase damage around a flag would be a support, and so on. Entrenchers are defined by their need to prep the ground beforehand. This makes them a role focused on defense and of more limited use when attacking or in situations when unable to prepare. Sappers on the other hand can negate an enemy's defensive emplacements; typically these defenses manifest as traps and a good Sapper can prevent the party from getting killed before they get to the fight.
- Blesser/Hexer: Blessers grant ability to the party that, while useful, don't directly aid in damage done or damage taken. For example, flight or ability to breathe underwater. Hexers negate the opponents' blessings like incorporealness. Hexes are often part of a Hunters ability's but can also aid the party as they make the target easier for every one to fight.
- Commander: Commanders are those people who bring in outside support. They hire NPC's and lead them. Sometimes Commanders have ability that act like a Support and so bring more allies so they can get more bang for their buck when they use their abilities. A ten point damage increase among two people is only twenty damage, but giving six people ten damage is sixty damage. Commanders can also focus on one ally that's built into their ability, such as a Ranger/Druid with his pet, rather then hiring help.
- Summoner: Like a Commander only they create their own help, rather than rely on finding warm bodies in a tavern.
- Jack-of-all-Trades: They can do something of everything, but they won't be as good at it as a dedicated role might be.
- Mutt: Any combination of the above roles. Common ones include Support/Nerfer and Meatshield/Berserker.
- Face: The guy who does the most talking, and the "face" of the party to the rest of society. Charm, negotiation, diplomacy, and all the other assorted people skills are what they do best.
- Muscle: Sometimes negotiations can go better when there's a big beefy guy standing behind the negotiator looking mean and tough. That's where the Muscle comes in. They don't talk much, but they don't need to when a mean look or a solid smack can say so much more.
- Hawk: The most perceptive member of the party, who's always watching for something that seems off. Usually makes a good detective or investigator.
- Wallflower: The one guy who's just...there and doesn't seem to do much to get anybody's attention. Even the GM might forget he's around at times.
- Shadow: The sneaky guy who always finds a way to be beneath notice. Often tends to be a Burglar or have a similarly stealthy inclination.
- Pet Psycho/Do-gooder: His main gimmick is being the opposite alignment from everybody else in the party. Useful either as comedy relief or as a source of party conflict depending on the circumstances.
- Librarian: The party's geek. Good at finding and using obscure information which can occasionally be what the party needs to get shit done, but you shouldn't expect him to pull his weight in a fight unless he's a magic user.
- Artisan: He's good at crafting stuff. Ask him to make you that fancy Belt of Giant's Strength +4, but don't get on his bad side or you might get a Girdle of Opposite Sex instead. Oh, and be sure you have all the materials he needs.
- Knight in Shining Armor: The textbook good guy, always willing to sally forth and slay evil. His naivete can backfire on him on occasion, however- and he may be in for a nasty shock if it turns out that the world isn't as black and white as he thinks it is.
- Charming Rogue: Coin and cleavage are the primary motivations of this character, but he has a knack for charming the pants off people even as he picks their pockets.
- Seeker: Knowledge is power for this character, and he's always looking to learn more. That doesn't mean he can always handle what he learns. In settings like World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu, they are very likely to piss off the wrong supernatural being by asking the wrong questions and consequently die horribly.
- Wanderer: This character just wants to see the world, and doesn't like to stay in one place for too long if he has a choice.
- Mercenary: Money is all that matters to him, even more so than the Charming Rogue- and he doesn't have the "charming" part to fall back on. This also means his loyalty will inevitably be sold to the highest bidder.
- Murderhobo: He's just here to kill things and take their loot, and doesn't particularly care about the specifics. There is no such thing as collateral damage to them.
- Fish out of Water: This guy isn't native to the setting, either because he's a foreigner, from a different time, or even another world. Naturally, he hasn't a clue what the hell is going on. Some of them may try to introduce their technology into the setting a la "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". A good DM will stop him before he can forcibly begin the Industrial Revolution.
- Soldier: His whole reason for existence is following orders, no matter how dangerous or arbitrary.
- Daddy Issues: This character's parents played a big role in shaping who he is. Sometimes it's trying to live up to a parent's fame, other times it's their death or disappearance, but family issues almost certainly played a role in his reason for adventuring. If done poorly, he's likely to come off as a whiny little shit.
- Avenger: He's obsessed with getting revenge, whether it's for the death of a loved one or the destruction of his home. Sometimes they can take it too far and become worse than whomever they want revenge against.
- Zealot: Mindless, all-consuming loyalty to an organization, ideal, or person is the main component of the character's personality. Expect conflicts within the party if they can't reconcile his fanaticism with the party's own goals in the event that they end up conflicting with one another.
- Lazy Ripoff: This character was directly copied from somewhere else. A punch in the face is the best way to deal with players who insist on using them.