Delver Evolution: Role Review

Today I’m going to take a look at character roles in D&D and how they’ve evolved. I’ve already done this in more detail for the fighter and thief, but I’d like to take a look at how the roles influenced each other.


The oldest role was probably the basic assault role, which can be summed up as “keep attacking them until they drop”. It’s simple, straightforward, and common to most of the units on the field. However, there are some interesting hints of other roles in the hero and wizard units.

Hero Roles:

  • Survivor: The ability to take 4 hits to kill from normal attacks gave the hero a lot of staying power. Thee fact they died last when grouped with normal units just reinforces that.
  • Champion: The flip side of being the last to die was their ability to counter certain special or elite units. If look like they may have been able to shield their allies from special monsters by fighting those themselves. Their dragon sniping looks like a similar ability.
  • Commander: Their ability to boost the morale of allied units do suggest a certain basic support role.

Wizard Roles:

  • Artillery: The wizard’s default attacks (fireball and lightning bolt) acted just like ballista and catapult attacks. As such, a fair part of the wizard’s role was being portable artillery.
  • Sneak: The wizard’s ability to turn invisible meant they could sneak into a good position before raining death from above.
  • Counter Agent: Wizards had the ability to counter the spells of other wizards, making them useful equalizers.

In addition to these, the wizard’s spell selection could open up a few more roles.

  • Manipulator: Many wizards spells altered either the battlefield or their opponents abilities and behavior.
  • Commander: Several spells augmented or protected allied troops.


The original red box came with 3 classes: the fighting man, the magic user, and the cleric. These three would lay the foundations of the roles we know today.


The fighting man is an extension of the hero unit from Chainmail. It inherited much of it’s predecessor’s toughness but less of it’s anti-elite and leadership abilities. However, the very fact the fighting man was tougher than the other classes lead to them being called out to form the front line and lead the charge in battle. This was simply a matter of throwing the character most likely to survive danger into the thick of it.

It’s interesting to note that this early front line role was not purely defensive. The fighting man was perfectly capable of taking the fight to the enemy and doing them in.

In fact, their ability to defend had a lot to do with the party taking advantage of choke points combined with bolstered numbers through henchmen. A group of fighting men could form a solid wall that made it impossible to engage the back line in melee.


The wizard would have a lot of it’s abilities stripped down in the transition to the magic user. However, it did retain a certain artillery feel. Much like the siege weaponry their predecessors were based on, magic users had big guns, but were easy to take out if anyone closed with them.

This relative frailty with high firepower may have been the start of the glass cannon archetype that would become the damage dealer role in later games.

At that same time, the diverse abilities available to the class would give the magic user a special “trouble shooter” role. The idea of the “utility belt” mage was to always have an option ready for anything that might stall the rest of the party.


The cleric actually started from a vampire hunter archetype. As such, it’s original role was more of fighting-man / magic-user hybrid with and anti-undead twist.

However, it’s the inclusion of healing spells that would come to dominate the class. Part of this may have come from the extremely slow recovery times for natural healing. When a single spell can shorten down time from weeks to a single day, that’s going to catch the player’s attention.

Their spell select was also geared more toward support instead of the more offensively minded magic-user selection, which implied a certain ally enhancing and support role.

It’s worth noting that the cleric was almost as combat ready as the fighting man, so they could also fill the front line role to a limited extent.


Though it’s consider one of the most archetypic classes, the thief was actually added to the game in it’s Blackmoor supplement.

The interesting thing is that the thief really had a very limited combat role. It’s role in the party was far more oriented on exploration activities such as scouting and defeating traps. Even it’s signature combat ability was better suited for scouting and taking out sentries than it was for reliable use in a pitched battle.

It’s also worth noting that the thief shared a certain amount of territory with the magic user. The thief would often be called on to find a solution with their skills much like a magic user would be with their spells. As such, the thief did share the magic user’s trouble shooter role to some extent.

Wrapping Up

Next time I’ll look at what happened to these roles as the game evolved.

The second playtest for mezzo should also be out this coming week. It would be out already, but my editor hasn’t been feeling well, so progress has been delayed.

Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 12:20 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: