Choose Your Language

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Party

"Dungeons and Dragons" (D&D) has always been about taking a party of adventurers into unknown lands and dangerous dungeons in the search of adventure, gold and fame. Yet just how big can the party be and who exactly makes up the party? What is the difference between a PC, cohorts, companions and henchmen? Many of you may already have your own ideas about this, but I hope to set out what I believe are the differences between them and how they will play in Better The Demon. To help illustrate this, I will refer to the great Lord of the Rings film, using Frodo as the main character.

Party Size: To begin with, there is nothing to stop a player from playing a party of only one character in size: their avatar and nobody else. Also, in a multi-player game, each player can play just their single PC and nobody else, but when they join together then the party size will be as big as the number of players in the session. Yet in both the single-player and multi-player game, players often like to either play more than one character determined at the "party creation" screen or find other characters that will join their company along the adventure. Determining how the players(s) take new members into the party will determine just how faithful those characters will be.

The Player Character (PC): There can only ever be one main PC for each player. This is also referred to as the player avatar: the character that represents the player within the fantasy environment. This character will always behave as the player controls them (unless dominated in some way) and will stay with the player throughout the adventure. They would represent the leader of the group of PCs that the player is playing. (In a multi-player game, an overall party leader is chosen from all the PCs that represent the different players.) In my example, I see Frodo as the character that would represent the main PC within Lord of the Rings.

Cohorts: Sometimes, however, a player likes to make their party larger than a one-man band and looks for fellow adventurers to accompany them along the way. Since the release of Storm of Zehir (SoZ), a gap has been filled in the NWN system to come closer to the D&D environment. That is, a party creation system has been introduced that allows players to create their own party with more than one character from the start of the game. In D&D, a player was always allowed to play more than one character in this way if they wanted to, and was actively encouraged to do so if there were not enough players to create a reasonable size party full of PCs. These additional characters, known as cohorts, were seen as devout followers of and always dedicated to the leader PC. As such, their statistical make-up was at the control of the player and they behaved very much like a PC as far as control was concerned: a player could always rely on knowing they were on their side. Continuing my example, Sam, Merry and Pippin would be cohorts to Frodo.

Companions: Before the introduction of cohorts (via SoZ), the closest a PC could come to finding allies for the adventure ahead came in the form of companions (unless playing with other PCs in a multi-player game of course). A companion is often (but not always) represented by an NPC ally, who is ready to help with the party cause or simply tag along for the company. As such, their motive is not always clear and they are often only to be trusted all the while they remain in service with the party. A difference of opinion or a change of influence can often end the relationship quicker than it started, and this could be catastrophic if it happened at a bad time like in the middle of negotiating terms with an enemy. As such, a companion's statistical make-up is not usually at the hand of the player. The initial build certainly isn't, with any further build being determined by the module creator at build time. Although, companions are similar to cohorts in that the player can normally control them in every other respect while they remain in the party, by having full access to their character sheets and inventory. In my example, Gandalf, Strider and Boromir would all classify as companions. In this case, Gandalf and Strider remain faithful to the main PC, Frodo, whereas Boromir does not.

Henchmen: At the bottom of the barrel and very much of the "cannon fodder" level come henchmen. Now this is not always the case and there are some very close relationships with some henchmen that may come close to companionship, but as far as gaming characters go, then, unfortunately, henchmen are the Star Trek red-shirts of the D&D world. Players have next to no control over henchmen except that the henchmen will generally support the main PC in a battle, but not even this is assured. They will often only accompany a party if they are paid in gold coins (in advance), and only then all the while the PC acts in a way they agree with. Henchmen will usually be the first to die in a party, the first to run away or leave and the last person you should trust. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but as a general rule, players have the least control over henchmen and are only able to issue basic commands to them. While not quite in the same vein, Gollum could have been considered a henchman in Frodo's party. However, I also see the many soldiers-at-arms as allied henchmen for Frodo as well.

Better The Demon

I hope to allow all these character types in my module and have them interact according to their type. For instance (and subject to spell domination), cohorts can be possessed and controlled by the player all the time; companions can have the same control all the while they are not following their own motives; and henchmen can have simple commands issued to them, but cannot be possessed and controlled. Therefore, for players who want complete control of their characters, then they should only rely on cohorts (create a party using the party creation system). For those players who don't mind a little variation or less control of their characters, then take on board some companions. If you really don't want any attachment, then maybe it will be possible to pick up the odd henchman, but don't rely on them lasting long. Furthermore, all characters may respond with comments (even the main PC if possessing another character at the time) subject to events, location and condition; allowing the party to feel more alive, responsive and interactive.

What's Your Favourite Party?

Finally, I would like to ask readers what is their favourite party build? Do you like to go it alone, or build a large party? What size party do you like and what classes would you include? Tell me your party build and why you think it is the best option.


Amraphael said...

Interesting post! I'm a traditional DnD-player and when I'm playing single playergames I often go with a party of 4. In CRPG it's the most I can manage, still enjoying the game. I often play some of the base classes with love to play a rough or cleric. When playing with others such as my wife or some other friends seldom use companions as it often gets too complicated for the party leader. Of course we pick up some companions or henchmen if the story requires that. But otherwise we try to manage on our own (don't want to share the loot with outsiders ;) )

Here's some of the parties I handle right now:
NWN2 OC (4 person MP) - Human Rouge, HumanFighter/Bard, Half-Elf Wizard and Human Cleric

NWN2 SoZ (2 player, 4 PC party MP) -
Elf Sorcerer/Arcane Scholar, Half Rouge/Duelist/Swashbuckler, Aasimar Bard/Fighter, Grey Orc Monk/Cleric

NWN2 Trial & Terror (3 player MP) -
Human Wizard, Human Cleric, Human Rouge

Why? Well me and my wife and friends has been playing CRPG since BG and we often fall into the same roles. In SoZ I play with my wife and we decided to make some multi-classing trying out classes we never played but we did fall back into the classic ones with a small flavor of prestige classes. IMO I don't think all those classes fill a gap especially with all feats and skills one can choose between. I like to be able to create a really unique party but in multiplayer I need to have some pace.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Amraphael,

Good to hear from another traditional D&D player. :) My wife also joins in when playing in my modules.

Your game style sounds similar to my own in that I prefer to keep the party to around 4-6 characters (and without companions if possible). Controlling them is also my issue.

I have also found I lean towards standard classes, as some of the newer classes (and prestige classes) appear to be superfluous to most situations. Nice to have (and offer the player) I suppose, but I would not miss them. ;)

I suppose players do like to play a certain class. I have even found myself veering towards a cleric class, my wife like the rogue class and my friend likes playing a wizard and a fighter (two seperate characters). So we end up with a relatively rounded party for most situations - and my friend is quite happy playing more fighters if there is a need. He handles control better than my wife and I do. ;)


Kamal said...

SoZ Cohorts = zombie companions! You get total control at the expense of any personality you don't make up yourself.

I personally tend to play fighter types, at least for a first playthrough. Many games tend to be built around the assumption of a fighter type as the main. Thief/Mages are for the second playthrough. I pretty much never go for the cleric/druids for my pc, probably because I lack imagination in how to use them and tend to wind up just loading them up with healing spells :-)

In BG I always went for a 6 player party unless I was trying a solo or duo, at least as much for the companion interactions as the game seemed to be designed for it. For instance in BG1 you got level capped pretty quickly if you didn't play with a full party.

If you do the traditional 4, the fighter type tends to get focused on drawing aggro and not being hit rather than damaging enemies since they're the only real melee class.

But this doesn't match up with the many fantasy stories that have our melee characters slicing through enemies. My standard BG party had 3 melee chars for this reason. It allowed them to not focus entirely on defense.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

Cohorts can have some interjection if handled carefully. However, it is true what you say that cohorts do not have a "past" or "history" they want to impart compared to companions, but sometimes this is exactly what a player wants. After all, having a character you can rely on at every stage (who may comment but not go against your will like a companion might) can be useful when adventuring.

Playing a fighter type is a great default class to go with. After all, you generally have more HPs and can usually take care of yourself in most situations. However, it is interesting what you say about cleric/druids. Hopefully, I have designed some of the spell casting approach in such a way that will help remove some of the forward thinking required for allocating spells (via something I call Arcaene Lore spells: an ability to cast spells outside of those currently learned.)

Party size does appear to be between 4 - 6 characters and is normally determined by the amount of fighter types you need making up the difference. After all, sometimes a scenario simply requires "muscle" to survive! Simply put, one normally requires between 1-3 fighters according to balance of the enemies in a module.


Eguintir Eligard said...

Personally I dont find that cohorts are a "step closer"to the D&D experience. In the D&D experience you generally have friends; the create a personality for the other characters. Having static robots if anything is a step away from the D&D experience to me, where the companions had provided at least artificial personalities for your party.

And that of course is the only party type I like. Speechless robots are so 1980s.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Eguintir,

I suppose it is because I am used to 1980 style of play (my main era) that to me it *is* closer to the D&D experience I had. ;)However, they do not need to be speechless, and even in D&D when players played cohorts, each character still had its own personality.

I have adapted a system that allows even cohorts to have some say (based on class and attributes) in some situations, so maybe they will not appear so much like "zombies", but more like helpful friends offering advice. Unlike companions, who may not always have your best interests at heart. I suppose there are two schools of thought at work here:

1) Developing characters that are completely under the control of the player conforming to every statistic that the player desires to suit their needs, or ...

2) Acquiring characters that may be useful for some time, but may abandon you when you don't want them to .. and are not so easy to devlop statistically.

Some players prefer the former, in which I probably include myself, as I like to build every aspect of my party to my ideal design. While other players prefer a less stable party that may test the direction of the player. It is interesting to find different styles of preference between players. :)


Kamal said...

I don't know. If there's a companion fighter with 8 strength and 8 dex and con, no one's going to pick him up. People tend to pick companions that are good statistically or have some other attribute that makes them a valid choice. Edwin from BG2 comes to mind here, he's weak statistically, but with his amulet that let's him cast a lot more wizard spells than anyone else he's a strong good choice from a power level. Few people pick up Nalia, she's weak.

I don't really see the difference between Sam, Merry et al than Gandalf/Strider etc. It seems like cohorts are simply party members that have joined before the current adventure begins.

Though it may not seem like it to Frodo, Gandalf always supports Frodo, Frodo simply doesn't understand the support Gandalf gives him.

I think most people will probably going to take companions similar to what you might make as a cohort.

/the word verification word for this post is "wookey".

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

A fighter with the stats you suggest is not much of a fighter. ;) A fighter by name only by the sounds of it and probably not worth the time to take on as a fighter - as you say. That is one of the beauties of cohorts, in that you can design the party member in a way that is worth playing. Otherwise, it's a case of waiting for the right companion to turn up in the game.

In some ways, cohorts *are* a bit like you describe. i.e. Characters that know each other and work as a group even before the adventure begins. This is why the Party Creation system is a good way of handling cohorts. I use the analogy I did, because I believe the relationship between the hobbits (in this example) were better matched as cohorts than other members of the party. However, I suppose you may even have been able to include Gandalf as a cohort, but I would not have done. The important thing to note (in game terms) is that cohorts are always controlled/levelled by the player, whereas as companions may not be ... and henchmen certainly are not.

It is quite possible to have a companion "support" or "lead" the main PC through an adventure, and this can be and is done in modules.

The problem is companions *cannot* be cohorts if we determine that oneof the differences is that cohorts statistics are set up by the player. A player cannot do this with companions (unless the builder adds a lot of code to allow it, which defeats the point), and the player will only further be able to develop companions a certain way *if* the builder unlocks the class allocation during level up. While many builders do this (myself included), it is rather a freedom to the player to help shape the companion rather than anything that should be offered. After all, companions would have their own agenda. Only cohorts should be considered so devout to the main PC that they are fully led by the main PC in everything they learn and do. Allowing companions to be developed by the player is a halfway house mechanics kindly provided by the builder, but does not replace the full control offered by cohort creation.

Quite an apt verification code that one. :)


Kamal said...

Yeah, I let the wookey win.

I'm also doing the trick with joining companions at level one and then giving them pc level xp. Plus unlimited multiclassing. It's a trade off for not doing cohorts, though I may add the ability to add them later.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Kamal,

That's not a bad compromise, although the player won't be able to give the original attribute allocation without some extra coding for the companions. Cohorts allow even this. :)


Anonymous said...

I always feel the need to have access to all options available in a game, so a party of six would be my preferred size. Of course, most games are designed to prevent that, and for good reasons, so I've never actually played with a party like this (one more reason to take BG then). For a party of four I would choose have:

A rogue, obviously. Bashing doors and having the barbarian trigger the trap is not adventurous.
A druid, taking the role of both the healer and damage dealing spellcaster.
A monk for protecting the party and dealing some decent damage. I choose him above the other melee classes just because it's my favorite class.
A bard, for filling whatever holes there are, especially for having ranks in the few skills not covered by the rest.

I greatly prefer companions than cohorts in general. Playing SoZ with my own party was fun, but the lack of personalities made it like only one PC really existed. I think it would be much a more entertaining experience if there was some interaction between the party, especially because the double setting and the exploration parts offered many opportunities for such a thing. Your system of having cohorts commenting in some situations based on their alignment is definitely an improvement on that aspect, but I would still like companions who have their own motivations. It could be risky, but I find it much more interesting. (Besides, I've never seen a game where you are punished for trusting people too easily. In the worst case you will lose a companion, but the fight afterwards is designed with that in mind.)

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for your comments. Hopefully, you will be pleased to learn that in my module you can have up to 6 characters, comprised of cohorts or companions. The player has the choice whether to use all cohorts, all companions, or a selection of both. :)

That is an interesting choice of classes, especially with the last three classes. I am so used to seeing the standard fighter, cleric and wizard (with rogue) combo (my own usual selection included) that seeing someone play the more "specialised" classes appears a challenge to me. Yet, after you explain it, I can see your reasoning. However, these classes still fall under the "prime" classes (imo) and so I hope to be able to work with them in mind throughout my build.

As you say, my "party comment/interaction" system works with all characters played - and will also make comments based on attributes, skills and class, as well as alignment. It is a flexible system and one I am adding to as I consider another "character comment" worth including. :)

I agree that companions can normally be trusted, and due to time constraints, building companions with too many other motives can be difficult to pull off without compromising the main story. Hopefully, the same system I mention above will be able to add elements that make the companions develop a personality anyway. Time will tell. :)