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Live Together, Die Alone
Legends and Lore
Monte Cook

F rom time to time in this column, it's likely that I'm going to come back to some of the truly genius aspects of the Dungeons & Dragons game. And when I write that, I don't mean something from one edition or another, but from the game taken as a whole. In other words, I'm discussing things that were true from the first day of the game, and are still true today.

There are many things along these lines, but the one I'm thinking about at this moment as I ponder all things D&D is the teamwork aspect of the game. When Gary Gygax passed away, the officiate at the funeral service said—and I'm paraphrasing now, because it's been a few years—that it says a lot about a man who is best known for creating a game where the players worked together toward a common goal rather than against each other to get some prize. There's truth in that.

I love to see a group in the game working well together, using powers and abilities to help one another, and complementing each others' strengths and weaknesses. A group that learns to operate like that is truly greater than the sum of the whole. The game is designed to be a group activity, with players taking on different roles that fit together like puzzle pieces when assembled. Where one class is weak, another is strong. Each has a vital role to play. Everyone has something to do. A moment to shine.

Many classes have traditionally had powers that aided others. Clerics, for example, have always had a role in healing other characters. Bards, when they came along a bit later in the history of the game, inspired their comrades, granting them bonuses or other aid. In more recent years, warlords have appeared to facilitate the combat actions of others. Other classes through the years have wielded similar powers.

Some people avoid classes like that, or even criticize them. They say that using an action to help someone else is a waste of that action. They'd rather use all of their own game time inflicting damage and being the star—and that's fine. There's certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be powerful and cool. That's a big part of the game. But what people who criticize "action wasting actions" don't realize is that there are people who actively enjoy helping others. Whether it's getting someone else into the fight faster, giving others a bonus, or helping someone with an affliction or wound, this kind of player finds the endeavor rewarding. It's an interesting divide in the way roleplayers think sometimes. (And of course, to be sure, even those who find giving aid rewarding like to be able to inflict damage and do interesting things on their own as well.)

Helping others is clearly a valid way to contribute to the team effort, and it earns one the gratitude of the other players. Doing so even inspires others to reciprocate when possible. I can think of a dozen stories off the top of my head of people sacrificing themselves in order to save the cleric, for example, because of all that character had done (and would continue to do) for the party. These nurturing, facilitating characters become the lynchpin of the group as often as not.

From a game design standpoint, there’s a temptation to build fewer classes that have to make sacrifices to help others. But what if you looked at it from the point of view of the people who enjoy giving of themselves to help their friends, and simply made those options easier to accomplish and more rewarding? Rather than try to make the cleric or the bard a class everyone wants to play, you could look at the type of player that likes clerics or bards and really play up those aspects of the class that they like.

Then, however, you get the people who say that you can't play the game without a particular class. In older editions of the game, for example, having at least one cleric was a must. But there's a difference between making a class that is required and a class everyone's happy to have along. In fact, all classes should be designed from that point of view—not indispensible, but incredibly valuable when they are in their element.

Lastly, it might be worth taking a look at giving everyone more opportunities to aid their comrades. Not just with healing, but with actions and abilities that help others to do well. You could, for example, institute more generous "aid another" or cooperative action rules. Heroic characters might be able to step in and take damage for their endangered allies. You could, in fact, tailor a special option toward every class that gives them some unique way of helping their friends.

From the earliest days of the game, the various classes were created to fit together as a whole. The point was less about self-sufficiency (although that could be attained with the right items or what have you) and more about teamwork. Gary himself wrote again and again in articles, books, and even in modules that smart play—and in particular teamwork and cooperation--was a goal unto itself and the key to overcoming the serious challenges the game had to offer.

 Which of these do you prefer?  
Characters should be thought of as part of a group.
Characters should be thought of as individuals and be self-sufficient.

Legends & Lore Poll Results: 10/04/2011

Magic items should be...
A reward given out by the DM. 87.3%
A part of character advancement chosen by players. 12.7%

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