This article was first broadcast in Episode Two Hundred and Fifty on 1st November, 2023.
Note: This article was adapted from an episode script, and so there may be parts that don’t flow well when read, because they were initially designed for broadcast.
Monks are one of those classes where they peak later in the game. Monks supported by a versatile party are good hit-and-run strikers at early levels. Monks supported by monks are a bunch of people who can run away very well, because they aren’t winning the fight. Without piles of ki points and only d4 melee damage they aren’t capable of the explosive power they can muster later. Even if you stick in some Kensei monks or ones that get special attacks like Ascendant Dragons or Sun Souls, all of the damage is still based on their martial arts die, which below 5th level is pathetic.
After 5th level, though, the whole team becomes a group of nightmarish guerilla fighters. Thanks to their extra attack and the martial arts die suddenly becoming a d6, their average damage per attack round goes from 6 to 14, depending on stats. They can outrun anything short of a flying arrow, which they can catch and throw back at people anyway. The Dragon imitators and sun worshippers can take care of airborne threats while the alcoholics in the group just wander around punching people into next week. You had better hope you don’t get hit though, because the Monks have the same problem the fighters do; no healing. Better hope that drunken master has something in their flask besides tequila.
Out of combat nobody has to worry. Even though they aren’t supposed to dump points into Wisdom or Charisma, the lushes and the lizard wannabes get “talk to people” bonuses. And if they have to run away, the bonuses to their dexterity means they’ll be impossible to find afterward. Fortunately that last part also applies when they’re at early levels. Just remember; Four Elements monks are still useless.
Right, moving on from that wonderful breakdown, a party of all Paladins comes very close to playing the game on easy mode.
They have all the advantages of the fighter party, except they can heal themselves or each other, and a lot more effectively than the fighters could. Many of the subclasses can also trade damage around like spare change to make sure they stay up even if the enemy happens know what “focus fire” is. And of course there’s the “critical smite” phenomenon where they can suddenly make an enemy vanish in a flash of holy anger out of nowhere, meaning they can finish fights a lot faster than the fighters as well. The group will also outright laugh at any magic user that tries to do anything but fling targeted spells at them. With five overlapping auras doing everything from giving bonuses to saves to negating certain status effects, Orcus could cast a spell at them and they’d go “yeah, that was very nice, we’re going to banish you now”.
Outside of combat they really don’t need to worry about much either; their spellcasting modifier is Charisma, so they’ve got all the “talking to people” covered, and boosting strength mods means they can muscle their way into anyplace they can’t schmooze through. They will, however, never be able to sneak anywhere; they have the clerics’ walking tank problem. That said, it could be argued a whole party of paladins isn’t going to care about the enemy noticing them.
A party consisting entirely of rangers is not inherently feasible, but with conscientious consideration of subclasses it can be a semi-viable option.
The primary challenge facing Rangers is melee combat. Despite the archetypal example of the class supposedly being Driz’zt Do’Urden, the 5th edition ranger does not have many innate avenues to excelling in melee combat. There are multiple methods to increase the damage done from a ranger’s attacks, however none of them favor close combat. Further, very few provide defensive bonuses beyond occasional abilities to disengage.
The best option for Rangers is to ensure there are members in their party who can abuse the realities of action economy. Both the Beast Master and Drakewarden subclasses are capable of putting extra actors into play during combat, effectively increasing the party’s size. However, again, few of these extra creatures provide insurmountable opponents in terms of defenses. The primary tactic employed by a ranger party would be to outrace damage done and remove combatants from the field with alacrity. Eliminating targets is critical and should be made the first priority. This approach, combined with judicious use of the minimal healing magic afforded to the rangers, should improve overall survivability. Also, given the number of abilities and bonuses to stealth, it is best for ranger parties to operate in darkness as much as possible.
Outside of combat, stealth is also the preferred approach. Covert operations are not significant challenges to ranger parties, particularly if any of their number selected the gloomstalker subclass. If caught, however, it is unlikely the rangers will be able to use diplomacy to extricate themselves with any regularity, except in the case of a character working specifically to mitigate that issue.
A party of rogues will absolutely be able to completely murder the first thing they come across. It’s the second, third, and fourth things that will give them more problems.
Rogues focus entirely on the three S’s: sneaking stabbing, and stealing. Sometimes shooting. The point is, none of those ‘S’es are “stand there and take hits.” Rogues fall apart in melee combat and they really don’t have any options to fix it. They get to disengage and run, but without the monk’s speed they won’t be able to go far, and they can’t shove a pet behind them like a ranger to soak up the hits instead. Also, they have to give up the stabby if they want to disengage, run, and find a one inch wide railing they’re somehow able to hide behind successfully. Once they start bleeding, they have no way to stop it, either, except chugging a potion and hoping nobody heard the pop of the cork.
The only hope is basically to set up like snipers, shoot until absolutely everything stops moving, then wait for decomposition to start before actually going forward. If they can stay hidden completely, there’s not much anyone can do to smoke them out; even carpet bombing the area they happen to be in won’t matter thanks to evasion. But any job that involves going into a completely open room full of bright lights and no rafters? Not happening. Subclasses really don’t matter much to the whole thing because all of them focus on different and inventive ways to help with the ‘S’es mentioned before.
Rogues are actually much more effective outside of combat. They can sneak into, around, and out of any place with a gap in a wall bigger than a few inches, and if anyone does happen to discover them the rogues will have them dead and stuffed in a closet before they finish inhaling to call for help. Then they can go back to whoever gave them the job and have the Swashbuckler negotiate for a better cut. That’s if nobody else bothered to boost their Charisma score, because the Rogues really don’t have to care about any other stat but Dexterity, so they may as well.
At first blush you’d think a party of all sorcerers is even worse off than the rogues; all they can do is damage, they can’t hide or run, and the damage is limited by spell slots. All of that would be true, except for one thing:
The Divine Soul sorcerer.
Debate still rages about whether the divine soul is better than a life cleric at healing, but either way they can help to shore up the problem of the sorcerers lacking any real ability to defend themselves in the long term. A misty step or a shield reaction will help in a pinch but they really don’t want to get bogged down in a melee. Fortunately huge crowds are something sorcerers are really good at getting rid of.
ROSTRO guesses a group will probably need one divine soul sorcerer for every two sorcerers in the party. The pattern for combat will be a routine; in the opening rounds all the sorcerers open up with volleys of damage, and then as damage starts to accrue in return, the divine souls will have to be field medics.
Obviously the ability of the party to do anything is directly tied into the number of spell slots they have left, so those will have to be closely rationed. Fortunately metamagic can help with that.
Outside of combat the sorcerers should be the life of the party. Charisma is their spellcasting modifier, so they can and should talk their way into and out of any trouble they happen to face. They won’t be exceptionally good at sneaking around, but they won’t be a walking kitchen cabinet of things either since everyone’s in bathrobes.
Oh and as much fun as it may sound, making everyone wild magic sorcerers will not last long. Nobody will survive the multiple fireball detonations, and the unicorn will be so annoyed, at some point it’s going to manifest as hostile.
A party consisting entirely of Warlocks is also not the most viable approach.
The extremely limited number of spell slots allotted to warlocks means they are not capable of explosive bursts of damage with the regularity available to Sorcerers and Wizards. Also, despite their Invocations mitigating the variability of the damage from Eldritch blast, they lack the damage multipliers offered to such classes as the Ranger and Rogue. The invocations merely level the field so the use of the cantrip is comparable to a regular attack. This means that beyond one or two battles where the Warlocks use their spellslots, their ability to eliminate targets faster than they can close or apply lethal damage themselves is limited.
Several Warlock subclasses have healing abilities. Celestial warlocks are granted access to healing spells, and have an ability that can restore allies’ hit points, while the Undead and Undying warlocks have abilities that allow them to stave off their own individual mortality. However the amounts of healing are only on par with weaker healing spells for the most part, and severely limited in use.
Outside of combat the warlocks would succeed on par with sorcerers, as the statistical situations are comparable. Charisma as the spellcasting statistic directly ties into improved interpersonal skills, and the lack of heavy armor capability results in no measurable hindrance to stealth, though it confers no benefit either.
A party of wizards is not as silly as you might guess, though like the Rangers you can’t just roll the dice to pick your subclasses. Specifically, learn to love the Bladesingers, war mages, diviners, and…chronurgists? Chronurgiastics? Whatever, time wizards.
Your Bladesingers and War Mages are the ones who are there to take a few hits before whatever’s attacking melts, shatters, or otherwise dies to the unnatural forces you throw against them. Those two subclasses are able to crank their AC up to respectable levels without burning through spell slots to throw up a shield every other turn. Meanwhile, your diviners and the Doctors Who are around so if anyone scores a critical hit against the Gandalf wannabes, they can use their subclass abilities to just make it not happen. Probably. Every wizard there will probably still need to reserve 2 to 3 level 1 slots labeled “Use for shield spell”, and the other one will have to be for Mage Armor. Unfortunately if anyone takes a hit, they just have to suck it up and deal; nobody’s decided the wizards need a back door into accessing healing magic, so it’s potions and cat gut for everyone.
Unfortunately, the stereotype of book-bound nerds very much applies with Wizards. Their main focus has to be upping their intelligence statistic. Realistically if they want to survive for any length of time, they should bump their Constitution score up as well to make up for that puny little d6 they get for a hit die. All of that leaves very little to push up their Charisma, and none of their subclasses help on that front. They can sneak around in the bathrobes, but they really won’t be very good at it. See previous notes on “have to spend the points elsewhere or going to die.”
As said, most of this is theorycrafting. Not all of these have been playtested, though some anecdotes can be found online about the more obvious and popular groups, like a party full of bards.