Role is a categorization system used to classify character classes in Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition. In that edition of the rules, all classes are divided into one of controller, defender, leader, or striker.
D&D 4th edition divides all character classes into one of four roles: controller, defender, leader, or striker. Role defines how the character is expected to behave in combat, and how their abilities complement those of the rest of the party. The four roles are:
- Defender: A class specialized in taking hits well, such as by having high armor class and hit points. The goal of the defender is to be the target of enemy attacks, protecting the rest of the party. In popular video game terminology, this is known as a "tank".
- Striker: A class specialized in dealing high damage to an individual target; a concept known in video games "DPS".
- Controller: A class specialized in effects which damage or hinder multiple enemies; "crowd control" or "CC", in better-known video game parlance.
- Leader: A class specialized in healing or otherwise supporting allies; a "healer" or "support" class.
The four player character roles of D&D 4th edition draw influence from the first four character classes of Dungeons & Dragons, as defined by Men & Magic (1974) and Greyhawk (Supplement 1) (1975): the Fighting-Man, Magic-User, Cleric, and Thief. Many later character classes were simply variants or combinations of those four.
Later, the AD&D Player's Handbook (2e) (1989) categorized the core class into four "groups": the Warrior, Wizard, Priest, and Rogue. These were based largely on which of the original four classes they most closely resembled.
In Wizards Presents: Races and Classes (2007), p.52, Richard Baker describes the decision to have all class roles in D&D 4th edition fit into a strictly codified number of roles, and that the exact divisions of class roles involved much debate within the development team.
In some cases, this required modifying historic D&D classes to better suit their defined roles.
Defender classes were designed to be "sticky", to have the ability to prevent enemies from simply attacking another target or moving past the defender. This resulted in new abilities like the fighter's Combat Challenge or the paladin's Divine Challenge. A similar feature exists in multiplayer online RPGs, where "tank" classes typically have the ability to draw aggro.
The wizard was codified as a controller class, defining their combat power as primarily multi-target attacks and debuffs. In previous editions, this was only part of their capability, with wizards possessing many single-target, buff and non-combat spells. These abilities were scaled back to focus on the wizard as an area-effect manipulator.
The rogue became typefied by its sneak attack ability to deal high damage as a striker class, as well as by its ability to avoid taking hits or becoming entangled in enemy debuffs or mobility-reducing effects.
The cleric changed little in concept, retaining its role as the party's healer, buff-spell caster, and secondary fighter. The title of "leader" makes more sense in the context of the Warlord class, also a leader, which has the ability to buff allies.
In 2012, during the design of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, Mike Mearls stated a belief that roles did not belong in D&D, at least not as a class design mechanic. A criticism was that they constrained player choice and limited player agency. However, he felt that they served as useful guides to new players to explain the strengths of each class.
- These Are Not the Rules You're Looking For. Mike Mearls, Wizards.com, March 26, 2012.