Balancing a D&D party is about more than classes, as some characters might require retraining or a complete rebuild, often with some DM guidance.
Balancing a party can be a tricky thing in Dungeons & Dragons, and it requires more than simply checking the boxes on classes. Proper party balance requires planning and discussion prior to the start of a campaign, and a deeper dive into the specific roles each character will fill for the group, in and out of combat. The current 5th edition of D&D is much more straightforward than some of those that came before it, but there is still room for a disparity in character effectiveness and usefulness, depending on the builds in question.
The prior 4th edition of D&D had roles defined for each character class. If a party contained a leader, a defender, a striker, and a controller, regardless of which classes took on those roles, party balance was reasonably well-assured. D&D 5e does not have these broadly defined roles, but characters can still be designed with their roles in mind for combat, and other areas of gameplay. For example, a character built to maximize damage can still function as a striker, while a character focused on damage mitigation can still function as a defender.
Without proper selection of sub-classes, feats, and other features, a character may end up lagging behind in their chosen role, leading to party imbalance. A group containing a martial character built around optimal feats and weapon choices, like a glaive wielder with the Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master feats, is capable of dealing high damage numbers in a short number of rounds. If the same group contains sub-optimal characters, such as a sword and shield Fighter, or a two-weapon fighting Ranger, the vast gulf in damage output will be evident. A player could opt to take the Sentinel feat and shift to focus on acting as a tank for the group – but for new players, this may not be intuitive.
A DM Can Offer Options To Rebalance A D&D Party Mid-Campaign
This places a burden on the Dungeon Master as well. In a party of characters built around only the basic rules of 5th edition D&D, with limited access to feats and some of the more powerful D&D sub-classes, the DM can adjust the challenge accordingly, leaning toward the lower end of threat on the encounter tables. Parties containing a mixture of highly optimized builds, as well as simpler beginner-friendly characters, may make it harder on the DM to find the right encounter balance, and the gap in contribution will become more evident, regardless.
Balance outside of combat should be considered as well and should absolutely be discussed at the onset of the campaign. Some Dungeons & Dragons games may be dungeon crawls, where dealing with traps, physical challenges, and monster encounters are the only requirements. Other games might call for a mixture of D&D skill proficiencies, if the DM plans to include investigations, social intrigue, and other non-combat challenges as a focus. It should be evident early on whether the needed skills are covered by party members, and the DM can offer guidance to help ensure this.
A DM might want to provide suggestions to a player who is dissatisfied with their character and offer them the option to retrain proficiencies, an ability score increase or feat, or replace a class feature with a more useful one. In some cases, if a character proves to be entirely unsatisfying for the player, rather than jumping through narrative hoops with the story to introduce a new character, the DM might allow the dissatisfied player to simply rebuild the character. The mechanics of a class do not have to define how the character is portrayed in the game world, so reflavoring a class is entirely suitable, as well. Dungeons & Dragons is a cooperative game, and it is most enjoyable when every player feels they have contributed to the group’s success.
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