Fantasy Survival 101: Gather the party

I’ve been toying with the idea of Fantasy RPG survival guide for a while – and here’s the first post in the series. What I’m trying to achieve is a comprehensive guide for players and GMs who’d like to solve those matters in a more involved way than just “roll Survival (DC 15)”. In this series we’ll be covering all topics from assembling the party, sharing the loot, small unit tactics, wilderness survival, fighting different types of enemies, surviving a siege, building fortifications, to establishing your own kingdom. Basically, everything your character/party/NPC might need to be successful in the weird worlds of fantasy.


You’ve just left the fighter’s collage. Your mentor has just told you to go find your own path. You’ve just been kicked out of the circus. Your village has just been raided by goblins. You’ve just picked up your trusty sword, bow, dagger, or spellbook, and made your first step on the path to glory.

Now what?

You’re a novice adventurer with little to no adventuring experience. Based on your background, you probably know a bit about combat, can chat up an innkeeper, can read and write, and have some more minor skills and a major destiny in front of you. In short, there’s hundreds of people just like you in this part of the kingdom alone, and in a year, half of them will be dead or retired.

Gather your party

Obvious as this seems, gathering a good party is the main way of increasing your chances of success. While the classic stories taught you about the iconic “warrior, cleric, wizard and rogue” party, the real-life experience shows clearly that this is neither the only nor the best of set-ups.

There’s strength in numbers, and there’s credibility. Nobody will hire a single adventurer, especially one without any references. The job market is not friendly: people usually prefer to hire experienced adventurers, and as there’s no way to get experience without actually getting experience, as a single novice adventurer, you’re toast. Of course you can try freelancing: there’s nothing stopping you from reading the notice boards and picking your own adventures – but that’s an option suitable only for the most motivated, and the least keen on surviving until the next dawn. Also, they pay is usually atrocious.

Almost all of the adventurers travel in packs, or ‘parties’. The groups can be created either by chance or deliberately, and often develop within themselves the bonds of friendship, family, or love. Or, let’s be honest, bitter rivalry and hatred, especially if your resident thief does not respect boundaries; in that case feel free to remind them about the laws of the land you’re traveling through and the fate of the previous bandits that tried to steal your gear. ‘You see that ditch over there, pal?’ Of course, disregard this note if you’re the resident thief in question – ain’t nobody gonna tell you how to live your life, right?

The classic example cited above might seem correct. With a warrior you get brawn, cleric supplies healing, wizard is a magical offence and support, and rogue adds some desperately needed subtlety to the whole endeavour. And yet – this is not enough. When you’re gathering a party, you need to look further than just labels; just because some random elf tells you they’re a cleric, don’t forget to ask: of which god? The main issue is this: no two adventurers are the same. Even if you’ve literally just graduated the fighter’s college, would you say that your whole class is a monolith and there’s no difference between you all?

What you desperately need to consider, is roles. If your goal is generic adventuring, the one with sitting in a tavern, riding through the forest, and delving through a dungeon with a loot chest at the far end, then you should consider filling the following roles:
– tank
– damage dealer
– subtlety
– battlefield control
– social
– survival

This is not to say that everyone in your party needs to cover just one and only one of all. They can be mixed and matched, but all are important. True, the importance of each role will vary depending on the type of jobs you want to take, but are all crucial for your party build.

Tank role seems straightforward; obviously, it isn’t. We’re not necessarily talking here just about a person in heavy armour or some berserker rage, who can take punishment from the opponents. There’s more to tanking than that. First of all, your performance varies depending on the intelligence of your opponent. You need to be the threat to all of them – but as unintelligent beasts will just attack the big target right in front of them, the smarter ones will do their best and work to remove from the battle what they perceive as the biggest threat, which might be your squishy wizard friend. So, you have to be proactive and quick on your feet, always engaging the opponent so they don’t have time and presence of mind to go after the rest of your party.

Damage dealers can be virtually any class: warriors, rangers, rogues, sorcerers, druids… I’ve even met a bard who could dish out some serious damage to her enemies. Class doesn’t matter, neither does the method. If the enemy is down, you did your job properly. Mind it, it doesn’t have to mean dead. We’re not all murderhobos. Sure, there are beasts, aberrations, undead and other who just won’t stop until you utterly destroy them – but there’s generally little reason to kill each and every one of your opponents. Use your own judgement – and remember that you can always kill a subdued enemy but you usually won’t ressurect a dead one.

Subtlety is an umbrella term for all things stealth-related. You may say: sure, I’m gonna take a rogue so they can open all of the locks and disarm traps, and sneak around. Well, you may. However, keep in mind that there will be times in your life when you realise ‘stealth’ is not always a one-person job. Even if you run around in a full plate, take some time to learn the basics as it might as well save your life. It’s great to have somebody sneak in and open those pesky doors for you so you don’t have to knock them down but when you stumble upon an orc warcamp in the middle of the night, you’ll be happy that you forced all of your party members to keep quiet.

Battlefield control covers things like mobility, use of terrain, small unit tactics, crowd control, advantage denial and, sometimes, gravity reversals. Your magic users might be the best for the job but a well placed sniper might stop in their tracks all but the stupidest of enemies. Make your battlefield controller life easier by picking the place to fight by yourself. If an enemy has the advantage in numbers, make them fight in tight quarters so they can’t surround you. If they have the advantage in mobility, take it away from them: tar, nets, traps, magical vines – anything goes. If they’re seeing perfectly in the darkness, blind them with light; if they can’t see in the dark, blind them with darkness. Or, you know, just blind them.

Social support is often overlooked when gathering a party. A mistake like this can not only cost you your lives, but also job offers (priorities, I know). If your whole party can list their interests by listing combat skills, something’s wrong. You need to be relatable to get jobs – unless you’re just interested in the kind you give to a band of square-jawed mercenaries, then do your thing. But gallivanting around and killing stuff will only take you so far. You need proper social skills if you ever want to become a famous adventuring party. You need somebody to get the jobs, to negotiate the payment, to haggle with the merchants, to talk down that pissy prince, to lie to the guards so you don’t have to leave the city leaving a bloody trail (which is generally frowned upon in most societies).

The last one is survival. This covers everything from navigation to foraging, to healing, to detecting your enemies ahead of time. You need somebody who will make sure you won’t get lost, who will supply food on a long journey, who will notice that you’re setting up camp just next to a bear cave, who will patch up your wounds and treat poisons, diseases and toxins, who will make sure you’re not walking into an ambush.

These are the basic roles that your party needs to cover if you’re ever to make a living as adventurers. The classes are secondary. It matters little whether your party has a rogue if the bard picked up some lockpicking and your ranger knows traps. The wizard isn’t really needed if your druid can literally rain fire on your enemies, after they’d bound them to the ground. No need for a warrior if your monk is fast and obnoxious enough to keep the opponents engaged and focus at them the whole time.

Make sure you consider these before you leave the tavern. While it’s easy to just get the group together, paying attention to tactics, roles and synergies will make sure no enemy will ever catch your flat-footed.

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