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As I've been reading around the site, I've noticed a ton of questions regarding a balanced party. Also I've seen many questions regarding if something will "imbalance or unbalance a party." I'm still fairly new to RPG's and I was wondering what a balanced party is, and/or why it's necessary? If a basic definition of a balanced party was given/posted it might just give some insight to those questions. Just some clarification would be perfect, and some input for new players coming to this site.

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"Party balance" usually refers to covering all your bases, so the players combined are capable of handling anything (reasonable) the game throws at them. A lot of games (but not all of them) involve elements of adventuring and dealing with all sorts of problems. Usually, characters are good at some things and not good (or even just bad) at others.

You want to maintain some level of "party balance" so the game doesn't fall flat (or the party gets killed) because they lack some kind of skill/ability that they need to advance.

Some examples:

  • A dungeon crawling game where nobody knows how to pick a lock might come to screeching halt because the adventurers encounter a locked door
  • An open world survival game might end with being lost and starving if nobody knows how to navigate the wilderness
  • A modern post-apocalyptic game might end up really boring or weird if nobody knows how to drive

Most games aren't about only one thing though; they tend to create a variety of situations, and you want a mix of characters to have at least some success at them.

Even in a game primarily about killing monsters and taking their stuff, it helps to have someone who can talk with the monsters (or non-monsters) you encounter, because occasionally you need that to advance.

If the DM is making their own stories, sometimes they can work around this problem by just not including that element, but it might end up weird (a dungeon crawling game without monsters because nobody knows how to fight can be... odd) or just not enjoyable for some people. It might also end up hard to play. A party of characters who are great at killing, but none of which can take a punch is very hard for a DM to balance, without accidentally killing everyone because the dice rolled the wrong way once.

In a pre-made adventure it's even harder, because the DM might have to modify large parts of the adventure (and we'll assume they bought the pre-made adventure because they didn't want to write their own).

And finally, it's (often) also less enjoyable for players if they're all good at the same thing. It's hard to stand out and get the spotlight if everyone can do what you do. Being good at different things is what makes the game fun, often. It means everyone gets to contribute something cool.

What exactly "all the bases" are varies from game to game; in a combat heavy game it might refer to having people who can deal damage, take damage, heal damage, etc. But in a game about courtly intrigue it might refer to having characters who are aligned with each of the major factions involved, and in a game about robbing banks it might require someone who can plan, someone who can talk, someone who can infilitrate, someone who can crack a vault, etc.

Ultimately, what really matters is that together the party is capable of bringing the game to a satisfying conclusion.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the covering all your bases thing is only half the truth. The other half, which is more important in my opinion, is preventing someone from hogging the spotlight, i.e. a fighter who also knows how to pick locks and cast some spells might make it hard for the wizard and rogue to really shine. You touch upon that quickly in the third-to-last paragraph, but I think this aspect deserves to be expanded upon a bit more. \$\endgroup\$
    – ammut
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 7:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ammut I thought about that, but I think "one player doing all the things" is more of a character (or game) balance thing, not a party-balance one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 8:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might also add a paragraph on power imbalance. In a fair number of questions, what's being proposed would make one or more characters objectively more powerful than other members of the party. This plays into combat balance somewhat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cronax
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ammut: you are absolutely right. We used to play with a know-it-all bard. Eeek! \$\endgroup\$
    – Edheldil
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 17:12
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A general party has several parts though a party can function without one or more of these parts it's advisable to have as much variety in your party as you can before doubling up.

These parts are generally referred to as:

Tank The guy with a high health and or armor class who gets hit a lot. e.g. fighter, barbarian, paladin, druid

DPS Melee (damage per second) The guy that gets close and deals a lot of damage. e.g. rogue, monk

DPS Ranged The guy that sits back and deals a lot of damage. e.g. ranger, wizard, warlock

Healer The guy that keeps everyone up and fighting and stops people from dying. e.g. cleric

Utility The guy with lots of out of combat spells and skills as well as buffs for in combat. e.g. bard

P.s. Let me know if I missed any

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    \$\begingroup\$ While the information here is correct, you're not actually answering the question. The OP asked ~why~ you should have a balanced party, not what a balanced party should consist of. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 12:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ If we use MMORPG parlance, there can also be crowd-control. I think that means AoE spells, mind control, things like that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Edheldil
    Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 17:15

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