More on splitting the party: The Expert

The TV show Numb3rs is about a FBI team that occasionally gets helped out by a math professor. The five FBI agents form the group that goes on missions, hunts down bad guys, and gets into gun fights. Each member of the team fills a different specialty, and yet at the same time are pretty much interchangeable. What makes them work is their effort and teamwork, this is a different model from a team where each person contributes specific skills skills (e.g. the Leverage team). If the show were Star Trek TNG, the FBI guys would be the “away team,” and in d&d they would just be “the party.”  They are the ones going on adventures.

But Charlie the math professor is the main character of the show. He very rarely goes into gunfights with the FBI team. Instead he stays behind in one of the headquaters and hunts down murders through math. In a fantasy setting he would be protrayed by the beyond-wise sage or wizard (but more involved with the world than the stereotypical mystic). But as the main character, he is the cool character that I imagine most people would want to play if the show were a campaign.

I wonder if it is possible to play d&d where one of the party members takes on the role of the Sage that hangs out at HQ and crunches the numbers? In this hypothetical scenario the only the other players would go into the dungeon and get into fights.

I came up with three sticking points that I think would make it hard to play out this setup at the table:

  1. Combat balance. Let’s say the combats are designed for 5 characters; with one behind, then the battle will be more difficult than expected. If we assume the sage will want some XP as well, a fight  balanced for 4 will make the party advance slower.The party members also depend on each other’s support in combat. The Sage can provide great out-of-combat support (intel, participate in skill checks, etc) but not so much in combat. For this to work, “Sage” would have to be a specialized class (probably a Leader) that can supply bonuses that act like single-use magical items. It might have a ton of dailies instead of at-wills and encounter powers, and those powers can provide party members with one-time buffs, saving throws, healing surge uses, etc.  To me, this doesn’t sound appealing as a character choice.
  2. Split parties. There’s going to be a lot of game time where your expert is in a different location, which means the DM has to divide her attention between two different scenes. I don’t know if there is a good way around this, other than some magic items or rituals that connect the sage to the rest of the party. For suggestions cell the comments on my cell phone post.
  3. Information Access. In order to make it worthwhile for the rest of the party to need a Sage, the Sage needs access to information beyond the regular means of the party. He should have an abnormally high knowledge check or a direct line to the Gods, Demons, etc. If there were a specialized class for this role, it could be a class power or feature. Maybe a Sage could cast divination rituals with reduced time or cost. Either way, he needs to get info from the DM beyond what is normal for the party’s level.

RPG Blog II had some good ideas for “low-magic wizards.” In that post he describes magic users as having a limited set of powers and are balanced out with fighting skills (perhaps even all the PCs have some limited magic). To get powerful magics, you have to find ancient temples, artifacts, extra-planar wizards, etc. In that world, I image that the Sage character would be one of the ones that had power well beyond the common magic-user. This would be a fun way to stand out and make a mark in world, but then you have the opposite problem with balance.

I like the idea of Sage character, but due to the team nature of D&D, he’s best suited to be a NPC that the PCs can consult with. It might be a good role for a retired PC though, if you play in a setting that spans multiple campaigns. Have people seen examples of classes or player characters that fill this role and overcome those enumerated concerns?

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5 thoughts on “More on splitting the party: The Expert

  1. I can’t stand that show… I’ve never even seen it but I am sufficiently annoyed by its very premise that I find it unbearable.

  2. I think once you come to realize that it’s math-gic, it can be quite good. I mean, most stories have very little to do with reality and everything to do with common perceptions. Heck, a fair bit of science fiction takes liberties with science and hand-waves it by saying it’s possible due to some sort of “alien” technology.

  3. If you want a low-magic wizard with fighting ability, then play a fighting type with the Ritual caster feat.

  4. @Sarah,
    I suppose, but I still find it distracting (but not enough to stop watching). The blatant disregard for the physics of the universe also annoys me, but those aliens must have figured something out…

    @by_the_sword
    Good point, I may actually try that sometime. However it would feel like a waste of feat slot if there were already ritual casters int he party.

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