D&D and the size of the party

June 2, 2013

I had a conversation with a friend of my roommate who’s from another country after finding out he was into D&D. We ended up talking about the game, and the game design of it, and I brought up the fact that most of the issues D&D has wrestled with mostly come out of the shift from very early D&D where each player had multiple characters to the idea of each player controlling just one.

I remember really considering this idea first after reading “Races of War”

In its origins, D&D was a wargame like Warmachine or Warhammer. You had a field filled with tiny men, and they fought each other with swords and bows. Eventually, someone got really lazy, and wanted to replace a large number of fighting men with heroic fighting men who would be easier to paint because there were much less of them. And that, right there, is the origins of DnD. The smaller number of better Fighting Men would be your “army” and eventually people started playing magical teaparty with their fighting men, and it turned into a roleplaying game. So it isn’t surprising that at first you “roleplayed” a small group of heroic fighting men.

When the new classes (such as “Magic User” and eventually “Thief” and “Cleric”) were introduced, they were intended to be better than the Fighting Men. And, well, they totally were. Indeed, players still controlled lots of characters, and it was deemed impractical for more than one or two of those characters to be any good or in any fashion important. So you rolled up stats for each guy, and if you rolled well enough on a guy he could be something other than a Fighting Man, and the rest of your guys were basically just speed bumps whose lot in life was to stand between the monsters and the Magic Users so that the real characters could survive to another day.

What you’ll notice happens when players have multiple characters the problems that people often have talked about with D&D over the years disappears instantly:

– High lethality? If you’ve got 10-20 characters, you can lose some and you’re not left out of play
– Class balancing? Every player is going to have a few of most types – so it’s not like one player is going to overshadow the others with their awesome wizard at high levels – everyone is going to have their own awesome wizard or two.
– Charisma as a dump stat? You’ve got a war band of several folks and you can also get hirelings to help. Those extra hands are going to be real useful because someone’s got to carry the food and torches…
– Random stats? – Everyone is going to have a good selection of character stats by averages – no one is going to be stuck only playing the character with low wack stats for the whole campaign.
– Out of spells? You’ve got several other characters who aren’t spell casters, so you’re not left being useless and not able to do anything in play.

You’ll also start to see other artifacts like the random number of monsters encountered and the pretty high numbers or the vast treasure pulls you get sometimes. All of this makes perfect sense when you have basically a company of adventurers going into the dungeon and not a band of 4-6.

Anyway, I figured I’d toss this here for later referral for folks on D&D stuff.

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