The one thing that will inevitably happen, for any RPG that gets any popularity, is that someone, somewhere is going to create a tier list to tell you who is the best, and worst characters to use in your party.
Even if you have a fixed party, like a game like Dragon Quest VIII, people will discuss which is the most powerful, which is the most useful, and sometimes, which one is just the coolest.
And I think your goal, as a game designer, is to make creating a definitive tier list as hard as humanly possible by making all the characters useful in some way. If a character isn’t worth using in your party, they aren’t worth being in the game.
“But how do I do this?” I’m sure you are asking.
The best way to do this, I think, is to focus on what is the character’s niche. What do they DO in combat? And I’m sure that everyone here instinctively builds around this concept. But sometimes, we need to be paying MORE attention to what we are doing, rather than just doing it instinctively.
So let’s do a little investigating.
The iconic RPG niche’s come from D&D: Fighter, Mage, Cleric, Rogue
But what do those even MEAN in actual gameplay. So instead, I’m going to draw from some terminology from the fourth edition of D&D. Now, while I don’t think the concepts in design in 4e were necessarily good for a tabletop RPG, which has much more focus on out of combat abilities to help balance the characters, they have a lot of application for video game RPGs. And well they should, considering they drew heavily from games like WoW.
The four roles described in 4e were Defender, Striker, Leader, and Controller.
Defenders existed to do consistent damage, and absorb blows, protecting the other party members.
Strikers existed to do huge spikes of damage, taking out large targets
Leaders existed to keep everyone in the fight, through healing and boosts
Controllers existed to do area of affect damage and to control the battlefield, to prevent anyone else from being overwhelmed.
Everyone had their role, and while two people might double up on one, it was generally best if you had a balanced party of each. And that is probably how your game should go, too. The other thing they did was make sure that if there were two “defenders” in the group, they could both do it in slightly different, but roughly equal ways.
You don’t have to follow this same structure, but you should have SOME structure involved. How does each individual character in your game carry their load? What is it that they DO? If someone else also does the same thing, how do they do it differently? Join us in the comments or the discussion thread in our forums to discuss this topic.