There has been a lot of talk about character roles in 4e. It sounds as though each character class is designed to produce PCs who will fill one of the following roles: Defender, Striker, Leader, or Controller.
I understand, I think, why this is the case. It's frustrating when you really want to play a Monk but what the group needs is a healer or an arcane caster. Assigning a role to each class makes it clear what is needed and what can fill that gap.
I suspect that, unless Wizards is doing something really weird, it doesn't make it any less frustrating when you want to play something that your group doesn't need.
(I should note that I really have no idea what 4e will look like in this respect, but other people's speculations have got me thinking...)
Personally, I'd prefer it if classes were broader rather than narrower. To keep the language/framework here - What if each class could fill, say, one of two different roles? So, your group might have a Striker/Fighter, Controller/Cleric, and Defender/Fighter. You might still need someone to fill the Leader role... but maybe that could be a Rogue or Wizard who followed a certain progression.
Of course, there are reasons to call the framework into question as well. There's a strong presupposition of a certain style of tactical play that just isn't followed by a large number of gaming groups. Do you really need someone to fill that Leader role? There's only a Leader-shaped hole in the group if you make certain assumptions about what the group will look like.
For example, in the D&D game that Angela runs (which we played on Sunday), we have the following characters:
Me - Dwarf Rogue/Ranger
Andrew - Half-Elf Spirit Shaman
Nick - Kobold Druid
Grace - Half-Orc Scout
Beth - Halfling Rogue
We're pretty much all competent at sneaking around and most of us have a decent skill set, which opens up a number of unusual tactical options. On the other hand, we have no arcane caster. We have no meat-shield. We don't have much in the way of buffs. Our spellcasters concentrate on summoning, healing, and environmental control. Is it wrong to play with three Strikers and two Quasi-Controllers? We have DM who plans for the group that we do have, and we end up having a lot of fun.
Alternately, take the Beyond Vinland campaign. We had:
Me: Bardic Sage/Warblade
(Jason: Battle Sorcerer)
Here, the standard roles were mostly filled (we lacked a Rogue until Doug's PC picked up Marty the Elf as a cohort), but most of us overlapped. Leader? I had some Bardic inspirational crap and a little White Raven. Pat had some Archivist buffs. Doug healed and had some cleric buff spells.
Would it have been better if all of that were concentrated in one person?
I don't think so.
(Continued: Character Roles Part II)