Building a Balanced D&D Party

We can't all be Conan the Barbarian
When making a character for a D&D campaign it is important to consider how it will function in the party. While clearly back story, and other role play concerns (such as what you would like to play) are ultimately more important considerations, every player should stop and take a moment to consider how their character will add to the party's ability to defeat the coming challenges of the game. For new and experienced player alike, this isn't always an intuitive thing to do, as it require you to think of your party in terms of game mechanics rather than role play. So here is a way to think about how to organize and plan for the various the "game roles" of each class.

The Party from the first Dragonlance Module
Regardless of the edition these basic character class archetypes will work for sorting out what role each class should consider taking.  For now let's use the classes from D&D 5, it being the msot recent edition and all.

There are three basic roles that each class can fulfill in the party.

1. Warriors

These guys do the fighting, take the hits and dole out the steady stream of damage that you need to take down the monster. They are the muscle, and lift the party when the physical challenge becomes too great for the others. The standard Warrior classes are Barbarians, Fighters, Monks, Paladins, and Rangers

2. Support

Support classes are there to heal, buff, and otherwise aid the other players as the travel through the world. Using their magic and abilities Support classes restore much needed player/NPC HP, buff player stats to increase their chances of success, enchant NPCs to turn them to your side, entangle/trip enemies to make them easier to attack, etc, etc, etc. These classes are a bit of jack of all trades and are usually Clerics, Druids, and Bards. 

3. Specialists

Sometimes, the problem is too complicated for Warriors to brute force their way through, and too subtle for Support classes to easily resolve. This is where the specialists come in.Whether it is how to slip by a group of patrolling guards, or blast them to smithereens, these classes solve the problems that no one else can. The standard Specialist classes are: Rogues, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards.

Now of course any class can be built to fit into any of the other categories, these are simply some guidelines to help you work things out. Feel free to create a Wizard that is more of a Warrior, or a Bard that is better suited to Specialist roles. But whatever your character it is best to consider how they would fit into these three roles.

Above: The Arachnophobia Player Party. Below: the Arachnophobia Party NPCs.
Properly balancing your party will largely depend on the type of campaign you are playing. The more combat heavy the more warriors and support classes you should feature. If the campaign features more puzzles than combat, heavier on specialists is a better call.

As a rule of thumb however I have found the following configuration works quite well, and will give you a balance of skill and strength you need.

  • Half of all party members should be Warriors. So in a party of four you want two warriors, in a party of eight you want four. Effectively every non-Warrior character should have a Warrior buddy to lend them a hand.
  • The rest of the party may be filled with Support and Specialist Classes as needed
  • If you must choose between them, Support is usually more beneficial to the parties survival than Specialists. Clerics and Druids can heal you. Bards can convince others to help, or stop attacking with greater ease, making it easier to survive.

Again this largely depends on the campaign you are playing, however if you are like JADE where you have a good amount of combat and role play scenarios this configuration works quite well.

Now that the players have finished reading... Dungeons Masters, making sure that your player party is balanced is ultimately up to you. Your players should be encouraged to play characters they want, rather than make decisions based on game mechanics. In my experience this makes for a better game and happier players.

To fill out and balance the group, as a DM you should introduce NPC's into the party to cover those missing roles. When creating these characters, give them fully written sheets, backstories, emotions and motivations. In short make them party of the party but ultimately characters that take a back seat in contrast to the importance of the players themselves during the game.

For my Arachnophobia Campaign party, my back line consists of a few Warriors, and some Support characters. I added in these classes to balance the largely Specialist oriented player party and it worked incredibly well. They like and care for the NPC's because they are ultimately responsible for much of their protection. These NPC's were also tailored to be likable or at least memorable for the players. An NPC with a conflicting agenda or personality might be interesting to shake things up for a bit, but will ultimately choose to leave the party at one point. Which makes them a short term solution to balancing at best. So when creating these NPCs make sure that they have a reason to work or mesh with the party.

As the DM only you really know what your campaign has in store for the characters, and so you are in the best position to know what the party is missing. So help your players out and give them a few NPCs to lend a hand. With more characters in the party it also means that you can start throwing those big monsters from the Monster Manual at you group, and they will be able to handle it.

Use these tips and always try to balance your player party in the future. A properly thought out party is far more likely to work together as a unit, defeat the monsters and ultimately complete the campaing. And isn't that what D&D is all about?

Written by: Andrew Gregory

Building a Balanced D&D Party Building a Balanced D&D Party Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 7/02/2018 02:05:00 pm Rating: 5

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