Thursday, June 13, 2013

Optimum Delving Band Composition

I want to write more about group tactics in Dungeon Fantasy, but tactics are strongly influenced by what you have to fight and what you have to fight with. I just finished two articles about the things that delvers need to be prepared to fight, so now I'm covering what a successful delving band should have to fight with.

A Word of Warning

The "optimum" delving band composition described below isn't the only possible successful delving band composition. It's a reference point for discussing tactics, not the end all and be all. Inexperienced groups will hopefully be able to use this as a reference for group composition, but these are guidelines and examples, not ironclad rules. It's certainly possible to have successful delves (and more importantly, to have fun) with a delving band made from a shaman, a martial artist, a thief, a druid, and a barbarian. That delving band will find a lot of challenges more challenging than a more conventional delving band, but if everyone is having fun, no one should care.

Necessary Key Roles

These are the most important roles that a delving band needs to fill, though multiple roles can often be filled by the same person.
  • Defender: Someone needs to able to keep monsters from killing everyone else, preferably by a combination of high active defenses, perks and abilities that let him share those defenses with others, and lots of armor and hit points and abilities that let him get hit and still fight.
  • Healer: Even the best defender is going to let some damage through, and it helps to have someone who can patch people up in the field.
  • Observer: Someone needs to able to scout ahead, notice traps, see potential ambushes before they're triggered, and find hidden treasure. 
  • Ranged Attacker: Killing enemy spellcasters, flyers, distant missile troops, and critters with nasty auras is best done by a ranged specialist. The ranged attacker needs to reliably and continuously generate damaging hits on the enemy at range.
  • Diffuse Foe Killer: Diffuse foes are hard to kill but they are often good at killing delvers. Someone needs to be able to reliably and continuously generate area effect attacks.
  • Tough Foe Killer: Many foes are hard to hit, well-armored, and full of hit points. Someone needs to be able to reliably get through their active defenses and armor and whittle down all those hit points.
  • Undead and Demon Slayer: The powers of Smite and True Faith (Turning) are so potent that a delving band should really try to have someone with these abilities unless they're completely sure that there won't be facing any undead or demons.
  • Utility Spellcaster: Magic can make everything easier. A talented spellcaster can retrieve distant things, make her allies harder to hit, illuminate darkness, create improvised barriers and choke points, and so much more. It's possible to delve without a utility spellcaster, but it is much, much harder.

That's eight key roles, but most desirable templates can fill at least two of them.

Filling the  Key Roles

With the suggested DF guidelines of 250 point characters, it is possible for a 4 person group to cover all the key roles. They may not have enough depth to cover all the possible challenges in dungeon fantasy, but they adequately cover the most common ones.
  • Cleric (or Saint): A Cleric with some healing spells and the True Faith (Turning) advantage fills the Healer and Undead/Demon Slayer roles, and has some ability as a Utility Spellcaster.
  • Knight: A Knight with perks like Sacrificial Parry or Shield Wall Training is an obvious Defender, and has the skill and damage capability to be a Tough Foe Killer.
  • Scout: The Scout is the classic Ranged Attacker, and makes a very good Observer with high Perception, Stealth, Tracking, and Traps.
  • Wizard: The wizard is a weaker Diffuse Foe Killer than a focused Mystic Knight, but does okay with Explosive spells. She can assist the Scout as a Ranged Attacker, and can be the band's primary Utility Spellcaster with spells such as Blur, Continual Light, Create Fire, Shape Earth, and Walk on Air.
Note that this is similar to but different from the "classic D&D 4 member party." The mechanic differences between GURPS and D&D mean that the archery focused Scout is just a better archetype than the Thief. The Scout is a good Observer and great Ranged Attacker; the Thief is no better as an Observer and a much worse Ranged Attacker.

Adding Additional Members

Groups that have more than 4 players have more flexibility in their band composition. A fifth member can cover some of the challenges that aren't covered by the existing members, or provide reinforcement for one of the key roles, or just be a whimsy character that someone really wants to play.

To cover additional challenges, add a bard or a revised shaman. Both templates provide the ability to handle negotiations and selling loot, and can add some additional utility spellcasting or ranged combat ability.

To provide reinforcement of key roles, adding a Swashbuckler lensed with Thief creates an Observer, a Tough Foe Killer, and a bit of a Defender. A Mystic Knight with the Shockwave Imbuement helps with killing Diffuse Foes, and can also use ranged imbuments to augment the Ranged Attacker role.

Whimsy characters can be just about anything: a Celestial Martial Artist isn't amazingly effective out of the gate, but but with other people covering the key roles, she may have time to grow into something amazing. If the sixth member of the band really wants to play a Minotaur Justicar, it's great to let them.

A Sample Five Person Near-Optimum Delving Band

For future group tactical discussions, I'll be referencing the following delving band. They're based loosely on the successful delving band from my face to face game.

Sir Allen, Half-Ogre Knight. Sir Allen spent his discretionary points on Sacrificial Parry, Shield Wall Training, Wealthy, extra Strength, and being a Half-Ogre. He does massive damage with his longsword and has enough skill to hit regularly, and that same skill paired with a large shield and heavy armor gives him lots of protection. Sir Allen helps cover Lifting and Carrying, Selling Loot, and Taking Damage out of combat and handles all defensive combat challenges as well the Homogeneous, High DR, and High Skill foes offensive combat challenges.

Jane of Arcadia, Human Cleric. Jane knows all the healing spells and has True Faith (Turning). She has a background with animals and can Handle Animals, as well as Heal, Clear Curses, Identify Monsters, and See in the Dark with her magic spells. In combat, she can deal with Undead and Demons thanks to her Faith.

Grumpy, Half-Elven Scout. Grumpy is an excellent archer and sneaky scout, thanks to plenty of levels of Woodland Guardian. He's good at Scouting, Tracking, Looting, and Map-Making out of combat. Thanks to some meteoric iron arrows, he's murder on enemy spellcasters and his normal load of arrows and skill means that enemy ranged attackers and flyers aren't a threat to the band.

Simonne, Human Swashbuckler-Thief. Simonne has a lot of Night Vision and can assist Grumpy in Scouting, as well as Bypassing Locked Doors, Obstacles, and Traps safely thanks to her thief lens. In combat, she can assist Sir Allen in Defender the other delvers thanks to her Sacrificial Parry and Edged Rapier, and her absurd levels of skill mean that she can easily take down High Skill foes.

Isawa, Human Wizard. Isawa has some diplomatic skills and a conjurable Fire Elemental Ally. Outside of combat, he handles Identifying Monsters and Loot, Negotiating, Researching, and general niche invasion. In combat, he's a backup ranged attacker and with the help of the fire elemental, he kills most diffuse foes really well. He also has access to Burning Touch to get through heavy armor, if Sir Allen's damage isn't sufficient.

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