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In Support of Supporters

by Jae

Sometimes when you start a new group you’ll have a player who wants to play the role of the supporter. This is great when it happens, but character creation ends up being a little trickier than you might imagine. In cases where the players are new and coming from video games into DnD they often default to the Cleric class, thinking it’s the de facto support class. However, players who’ve played DnD before know that a support hero is not determined by the class, but instead on how the character is built.

What Makes a Supporter Anyway?

In Dungeons and Dragons the classes are all (mostly) balanced to stand on their own. You can run a game without a Cleric or a dedicated healer at all if you wanted to. There are even groups that have Clerics who don’t do any healing. Instead, they have a ton of battle capabilities to spend their spell slots on. So if it’s not the classes that determine the role of a character, what is?

In short, it comes down to versatility and play style.

Supporter characters fill a role in the group based on utility. The more options they have the better they can smooth out the group’s overall abilities. With spell casters this can be achieved by picking a variety of spells that can cover different scenarios.

With non-casters this can often be covered though skill selection and equipment. A good adventurer can plan ahead and make sure they have what they need to provide the group options for almost any scenario.

When it comes to play style, a supporter-type player can function in a few ways. They can be an individual who loves putting a plan into action by helping make sure nothing goes awry. Alternatively, the supporter might be the team leader. If so, they are taking care to look at everyone else’s abilities and come up with a plan that best utilizes available assets. In short, playing the role of a supporter is anything but passive!

Playing Support for the Wrong Reasons

A supporter is someone who offers versatility and solutions. They typically are bridging gaps in skills and abilities that less versatile character builds skipped over. More often than not these players have plenty of time to take the lead in situations and play the role of a tactician, as they have the means to bring a more complex plan to life by utilizing everyone in the group.

What this all boils down to is that new players who try to be supporters so they don’t have to take charge will end up in the role they were trying to avoid.

When a player thinks being a supporter or heal bot is a more passive way to play, they are sorely mistaken. Even if you try to make your support character as passive as possible, you end up being a core decision maker in almost every encounter because your character acts as a glue that binds plans together.

If you’re trying to focus on healing, that HP pool you provide is critical to the group’s survival. If you’re trying to act as a utility knife, you’re at the center of every plan since you need to succeed on each of your steps to make things go smoothly.

Talking to Your Players about Support Roles

If you have any players that want to play a supporter type character in your group, make sure to ask them why they want to fill that role and explain the difficulties as well as the advantages. If you have players that snap pick Cleric because they think they’re just going to heal all the time, make sure to explain that the class is actually complex and typically does way more than just heal.

Similarly, if you have a player who really is excited about being a versatile supporter for the rest of the group, help them build their character in a way that gives them more options in encounters. Be sure to guide them to choose spells and abilities that can help both in and out of combat too.

As a DM your role is mostly about ensuring everything in the game works. So if your players want to fill a niche in the game, understanding what they want to do can be a huge advantage to your planning. Talking to your players about how they see their character in relation to the rest of the group is not only a good idea, but essential to building a good game for them.

Supporters Aren’t Necessary

When you have players trying to fill a supporting role in the game remember that DnD is designed to allow players to be more than just one thing. It’s perfectly fine for players to design a character that fills a single niche, but the game can allow for very diverse groups of characters to work together and change their roles over time.

While a character might fill the supporter role in one encounter, it’s easy for them to be the main combatant or face of the party in the next. This idea of amorphous character roles might be a little hard to grapple for new players who have come from games where roles are more set in stone. But every character in DnD can be as richly complex as they like. You just need to show your players how!

Support is What DMs Do

No one fills the role of a supporter in DnD more than the Dungeon Master. If you have players that like to define their characters in a supporting role, by all means you should let them.

It’s important as a dungeon master to make sure you let players know what a supporter really does in DnD and give them advice on how they can achieve the type of character experience they are looking for. As long as you remember to support your players and help them along their own journey, you’ll be sure to have rich and enjoyable sessions no matter your party composition.

Happy DMing!

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