Gnomish Workshop: One Of Us

Gnomish Workshop: One Of Us

This article was first broadcast in Episode Two Hundred and Forty Nine on 10th October, 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.

The idea of an entire party made up of characters who are the same class is one that gets tossed around a lot in veteran D&D groups. 4th edition’s combat was balanced around the assumption a player group would be diverse, and earlier editions have a lot more restrictions on what different classes are capable of. Unless you’re playing 3.5 and get to use prestige classes, in which case all bets are off. Also this is ignoring multiclassing.

However, 5th edition’s simpler ruleset and the number of different subclasses that exist means it’s actually not a terrible idea to have a party of the same class. Usually.
ROSTRO has done theorycrafting on how each different group would perform, and has recommendations for what kinds of situations they would be likely to succeed or fail in. Again, these are impressions from the statistics in the rules as well as some anecdotal information. We’re going in alphabetical order, because of course.

Firstly, the Artificer. This idea actually works better than one would think because they can abuse action economy so hard it becomes a joke. Both the Battle Smith and the Artillerist subclasses create other objects or creatures that act on the battlefield in addition to their own actions. The Artillerist in particular can also supplement the group with temporary HP with one configuration of their turret. The Armorer can soak up hits with their magic armor, and of course with the Infusions everyone’s getting magical gear out of the gate.

Two areas where they may struggle. The Artificers don’t have access to anything that really lets them drop the hammer on larger enemies. If they come up against a big target they will probably be able to take it down, but it will be a slog. They can probably survive by just hunkering down behind the Tony Stark wannabe and popping a literal heal bot while they fire cantrips over their shoulder all day, but it will take all day.

Out of combat they may struggle with social interactions and more active skill encounters. None of the artificer abilities or subclasses really encourage focusing on anything except Intelligence, and they don’t have any class features that give them extra skill proficiencies. They’ll be able to disassemble and redesign any traps or puzzles they come across, but some intentional bolstering of other statistics and/or grabbing feats will be required to avoid the “group of socially awkward, unathletic engineering students” trope.

Many longing diatribes have been penned by numerous individuals over the idea of an all bard party.

In discussing this matter, it is necessary to address an additional point; I have been informed by the Killer DM that any playgroup attempting to present her with a roster of all bard characters will see them set on fire at least twice.

As many have surmised, the numerous class abilities that provide bonuses to extra skills and eventually delve into accessing magic not normally granted to bards makes them very versatile characters, possibly the most versatile in the game. However, discernment must still be exercised.

Not all subclasses of bard are created equal given the parameters that all other companions are also bards. The Colleges of Valor and Swords have the most utility in shoring up the physical vulnerabilities that would otherwise be present. A college of Lore bard would of course grant access to higher potency healing abilities, and the college of Whispers can further boost the party’s success regarding physical damage to targets. Other subclasses are not inferior, but they do not directly contribute to replicating the abilities, direct or indirect, that would normally be provided by members of other classes.

The primary risk to a group of bards in combat is at levels below six, when the supplemental features of the classes and subclasses have not yet taken full effect. Also, barring additional acquisition of the ability through feats, Bards cannot innately use the heavier armors, so enemies with high attack bonuses will enjoy greater than average success in making attacks.

Out of combat the bards will enjoy their usual levels of success in all endeavors. The Jack of All trades and Expertise features ensure there will likely be an expert in almost all areas, and few if any of the characters will be deficient at any one thing. Given a month in any given kingdom, they will likely own all the businesses, discover and evict all agents of espionage or turn them to their own ends, marry all the offspring of the various nobles, and have intimate knowledge of the sleeping quarters of all parties, while convincing everyone that the situation is really in their best interests.

Anyway, Barbarians. Not most people’s first thought when someone mentions a single-class party, not even counting the jokes about how a party of barbarians can have any class in the first place. Most people have a mental idea of how a party of all barbarians would work, and for the most part that idea is correct. If there is a group of people on the ground and the party does not like them, they will die. If there is a single creature that the barbarians have an issue with, the issue will be resolved quickly. Some specific choices will have to be made within subclasses so the barbarians have some help making saves and shrugging off certain magical effects, but other than that, they’re good to go.

Unless, of course, whatever they’re charging takes off.

Barbarians basically have no answer to airborne targets, unless there’s a convenient ledge to jump off. Also, as the English can tell you from their experience at Againcourt [AH·shuhng·kaw], it doesn’t matter how scary something is in close combat if you’re starting a few hundred yards away with longbows. Or fireballs.

Out of combat the challenges are, again, about what you’d expect. Barbarian builds focus on Strength and Constitution most of the time, and there’s no help for skills or anything else in the class builds. If you want to actually be invited to the King’s court and understand what to wear, what they’re saying to you, and what you should say back, non-optimized skill improvements and/or feats are a necessity.

A party of all Clerics is arguably one of the most effective solutions. Partly this is because the Cleric has access to the most subclass options in the game as of this recording, checking in at 14. However, their spell list is also a big part of it. As we’ve pointed out in the past, the Cleric’s spell lists include the statistically most lethal spells in the game for single targets at lower levels, they can wear medium armor and carry shields by default, and their hit points are middling. But that doesn’t matter if they can shield wall against arrows and dispel any magic coming their way. And anyone charging the group of clerics will get to experience the joys of the divine blender that is five clerics all with active spirit guardians.

That’s all with no subclasses involved, by the way. When they get added to the mix things just get silly. You can have Forge and War domain clerics wandering around in heavier armor that makes them even harder to hit, with the Forgers imbuing them to be temporarily magic while the War clerics hit harder. That’s if the Light or Nature domain clerics allow the hit to happen or do damage. And after that’s all done, the Death domain cleric shows up and everything just dies. Then the Grave cleric goes to work and suddenly you have more friends!

Also, yeah, there’s always the Life domain cleric if you want to be traditional, I guess.

Subclasses can solve out of combat problems, too, if you need them to. Other than the magic, Cleric abilities aren’t tied to particular statistics, so it doesn’t sacrifice too much to put points into other skills. Of course, if you’re really concerned, someone can go with the Peace or Order domains to get direct proficiency in some social skills.

That said, evangelists are not known for being subtle. Everyone in the group is a walking tank or at least an armored personnel carrier. Unless someone takes the Trickery Domain as their subclass, anything requiring sneaking is going to be a dubious proposition at best.

Covert interaction and operation with environments are not a hinderance, in general, to Druids, all of whom have access to natural and magical means of enhancing their subterfuge. A party comprised entirely of druids is effective in more ways than many conventional assumptions would suggest.

Being a class that gains access to a full progression of spell slots, combined with the versatility of the druid spell list, means that druids are able to supplement their meager defenses magically. Spells like barkskin can provide a bonus to defenses if a druid’s armor value is below average. Also, druids innately gain access to healing spells, a benefit that can be enhanced if one or more of them follow the Circle of Dreams. Druids also have the ability to increase their close combat efficacy with spells such as Primal Savagery and Shillelagh. While they do not have access to the full range of aggressive spells available to Sorcerers or Wizards, their arsenal is not deficient, and can be supplemented by subclasses such as Circle of Wildfire or Spores. 

All of the aforementioned mitigation strategies, apart from those wherein magic is being utilized offensively, do not take into account the possibilities of wild shaping. The access to the myriad number and variety of beasts from the menagerie of D&D creatures provides a host of options for enhancing defenses, either by way of increased Armor Class or hit points, as well as multiple other attack possibilities. If a druid is following the circle of the moon, the efficacy of this tactic only increases. 

However, given the intrinsic link between the druid’s abilities and their spells and wild shaping, therein lies their disadvantage. The druid’s combat potency is directly proportional to the number of spell slots and wild shapes remaining available. Single combats and short engagements will be to their benefit, whereas longer engagements and drawn out periods of conflict will quickly see them falling behind. 

Outside of combat they will be well served, though under similar limitations. Druid classes and subclasses do not provide any direct benefit to skills and abilities beyond the usual, however the wild shape options and spells such as Enhance Ability can shore up weaknesses in that regard. Again, the druids maintaining peak performance requires expenditure of their resources. 

Fighters are another good class to build an entire party around, though like the druids, forcing them to fight over an extended period without a nap won’t be fun. The druids would be worse off, but the fighters won’t be happy. 

By default the fighters get a healthy amount of armor and hit points; they’re often the most difficult targets to hit in any given group of adventurers, and an entire party of them means landing a blow for any enemy will be tough. They are also more than able to hit back. They get multiple attacks on par with the other martial classes, though they have to dip into subclasses if they want any of those attacks to be flashy or do anything beyond normal damage. Several subclasses such as Psi Warrior also have abilities that can enhance saves. 

Also, unlike the barbarians, they will have no problem with long range or airborne opponents, as a group of fighters with longbows can put out impressive damage. They only get more dangerous if any of them opt to subclass into an arcane archer or eldritch knight. 

They are, however, going to become a pain in the neck to any apothecaries in the area. 

Fighters have no mundane way to gain access to healing spells or abilities beyond Second Wind, and that is only available a limited number of times. The only subclass that helps with healing is the Purple Dragon Knight, which allows them to spread their own Second Wind benefit to a few allies, but again that’s limited to the Knight’s own second winds. With the number of hit points and the armor loadouts fighters can manage they won’t be taking a lot of hits, but if they have a long, punishing slog through a dungeon, a few gallons of healing potion are their only options for recovery. 

Out of combat they’re actually in good shape. The only statistic the Fighter has to really boost in most cases is whatever they use to attack, so they can afford to push up the Charisma without sacrificing much. Your fake healer the Purple Dragon Knight also gets a boost to Persuasion, so having one of those in the party almost becomes essential, but someone getting their bushido on and going Samurai also gives you a boost in the charm department. Of course, everyone walking around in plate mail is going to attract attention; don’t expect a crew of fighters to pull off a bank heist. Unless we’re talking about the kind where there’s an extreme body count. 

To be continued…