Follow the Leader

Do D&D adventuring groups need a party leader? What exactly does a party leader do, anyway? Is it his job to tell everyone what they can and can’t do? Or are they simply the voice of reason when the group can’t decide what to do? Having a party leader can be a real bummer in certain instances. Many times he stops realizing that he is there to facilitate the fun of his fellow gamers. Sometimes, the party leader even comes (subconsciously, of course) to the conclusion that the campaign revolves around him. This type of party leader can really sour the rest of the group to the game.

In reality, a party leader amounts to one thing: a voice of reason. You’ll find, in a typical game group, that you’ll have a lot of different player personalities. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time reading Dungeons & Dragons periodicals will know that there are many different ways of approaching the game. Even if you remove the destructive play styles, you’re still left with six or seven “good” ones that can clash from time to time.

Take for example the following scenario: You have six characters, it’s the end of the adventure, and everyone wants to rest for eight hours. This is pretty much standard operating procedure for the end of a D&D session. You recuperate lost hit point and spells, all the while fast-forwarding the plot by eight in-game hours. So what happens when no one can agree on where to rest? Just metagame it.

In this situation, the party leader is not chosen because he’s the character with the highest Charisma, or the player with the best roleplaying skills. His duties are not to talk the shopkeeper down 3 coppers, or to decide whether to save the Princess or retrieve the Staff of Magius. Instead, you choose a party leader that realizes that they are facilitating fun for the entire group. Understanding that, though they are trying to play semi-realistic characters in a semi-realistic world, they need to put the needs of the players first. So they make the out-of-game—or “metagame”—decision on where to stay the night. Inside the boundaries of the game, you just assume that one of the characters gave a brilliant argument, and everyone saw the light.

The party leader can also have some other very important duties. From time to time, you’ll find players doing things to the detriment of the entire party. This can include attacking enemies who severely outnumber the group, destroying objects of importance to the adventure, or putting other characters in grave danger. Unless the player is trying to be disruptive, this is usually the work of a rookie—someone who just doesn’t know better. That’s when the party leader can step in and speak to the player, not the character.

Why not just explain to the character in-game that his actions will cause harm to the group? I mean, after all, if you simply explain the situation, I’m sure he’ll see the light, right? Not always. For some odd reason, a good number of D&D players think it’s fun to play stubborn, bull-headed characters that want to do what they want to do, and bollocks to everyone else. Or maybe they play chaotic characters that are so free spirited that they say “yes” to the leader, and just do whatever they want anyway.

In these cases, chances are the player is a lot more reasonable. By explaining to him out of game why this is a bad action, you can skip over the learning experience handled in-game (character does bad thing, bad things occur, character learns to never do it again).

In effect, the party leader becomes a mini DM.

As you might have guessed, the question whether or not we need a party leader has come up several times. This is mostly due to the examples used above. Although we have not, as yet, decided on a party leader, sometimes just reading about why you need one can point out ways to avoid having to have one.

In other news, the most recent session has produced pictures.