Kicking down the door is a mainstay of adventuring. That’s why you’ve got damaging object rules, the portable ram, and barbarians. You’ve also got teleportation magic, the knock spell, and good old fashioned finding the key. There are any number of ways to get through a locked door, but for some reason gamers seem to carry this collective assumption that, “We need a set of lock picks in the party!” I’m talking of course about the old party composition concept.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “I got stuck playing the healer” you know what I’m talking about. Sing it along with me now: fighter, caster, cleric, thief! These are the things that every party needs, right? I mean, in case you hadn’t noticed, The Handbook of Heroes is kind of based on that old chestnut. But here’s the thing: just because it works, that doesn’t mean it’s required.

Whether you’re in a class-based game like D&D or a more free-from system like D10, it’s nice to cover a lot of different abilities between the different PCs. If everyone is good at hitting things and nobody is good at magic, for example, you’re going to have a tough time in the Arcanum of Esoteric Spell Riddles. But for my money, I think that party composition is a great way for GMs to figure out what kind of campaign their players want. Did everybody roll up a sneaky guy? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add a thieves guild. Did everybody roll up a talky guy? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add some courtly intrigue. Did everybody roll up a barbarian? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add some dwarf tossing. If the players find themselves without heals, lock picks, or relevant spells, then that’s an interesting challenge. Let them hire a healer/locksmith/sage in game. Give them a quest for a magic item to fill the role. Don’t design for a perfectly “balanced” party. You want your players to come up with unique solutions to in-game problems, right? This is an opportunity to let them do that.

Question of the day then: Have you ever been in an “unbalanced party?” How did it go?


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