In all role playing games, there are 4 basic roles: warrior, healer, caster and scoundrel. Each of these characters specialize in a specific area in order to complete assigned tasks that make sure the party stays alive. Personally, I prefer the warrior or healing role. This is generally due to the fact that I enjoy running into the fray and dishing out heaping handfuls of hurt, but also because I dislike sneaking about. The warrior, tank, fighter, etc. is pretty straight forward as far as face-to-face combat is concerned, but why do I enjoy playing the healer? Because I can heal, plain and simple. In most pen and papers, the healer tends to have a decent hp which allows them to stay in prolonged melee combat. Combine that with the ability to wear heavy armor, decent martial proficiency and a ton of life restoring spells and you've got a pretty well-equipped melee combatant. But it's the ability to improve the combat capabilities and survivability of the individuals around me. Both the healer and the tank provide the protection that the caster and rogue need, and make sure that everyone gets home alive. Any smart rpg player will tell you that a party with no tank or healer isn't a party at all.
So what makes a tank a tank? Usually it's a combination of tons of hit points and the ability to wear the heaviest types of armor. This gives the tank unparalleled survivability in melee combat. Now being a tank doesn't make you invincible, it just means you're particularly tough, and this toughness comes with a hefty responsibility. Your job is to protect the other people in your party. But how? You don't have the hefty dps of a caster (although your dps is more reliable), you don't have the restoration of a healer, and you don't have the skills of a scoundrel. The tank protects his teammates with the only thing he has, his body. You act as a walking wall of steel and place yourself directly in harms way so you can go toe-to-toe with foes. Tanks dish out a respectable level of moderately high and extremely reliable damage that makes them a big threat on the battlefield. Your job as a tank is to get people to focus their numerous attacks on you and not your more squishy compatriots. How is this accomplished? You continuously move in combat, shifting left and right to control the lanes that lead to your allies and punish anyone who tries to get past you. You force your opponents hand and you exhaust their ability to strike at your teammates because you can take punishment that would most likely kill others. If you're the only one left alive at the end of an encounter, YOU MESSED UP! You exist to protect others and if you abandon your post, your allies will die. If you are low on hit points, the only person that should be taking your place is the healer, and this should only be temporary. Catch your breath and get back in the fray!
Is the tank down? Are my comrades dead? Do I still have a full repertoire of spells? I the answer to any of these questions is yes, you are a terrible healer. Now many think that a healer's job is simply healing and that's true, to a point. Healers generally tend to have good hit points, high armor proficiency, mediocre melee combat and a number of buffs at their disposal. This makes the healer more of a combat medic, and all of these abilities are important for how a healer must be played. Your job is to follow the tank, keep him combat ready and watch the lanes that he can't cover. Remember that hoarding spells is detrimental to the party as a whole, but wasting them doesn't help either. Know when to buff and when to heal. Think of it like in-game triage. Keeping everyone at full hit points is nice, but not really necessary when people are dishing out low damage. On the flipside, if you're fighting a powerful enemy that can knock off 50% of your life? You best be topping off your tank every chance you get. That being said, you stick to the tank like glue. He's your primary heal target at all times and if he goes down, there are not enough heals in the world to keep those squishies (caster and scoundrel) alive. KEEP THE TANK ALIVE! If he does his job correctly, you should be fairly safe and free to get a couple hits in every now and again. As I mentioned before, sometimes you may have to cover for the tank. If that's the case, cover with your shield (total defense action) and use your best heals to get the tank back into the fight! All other characters have better dps than you, but no one else can keep the team in tip-top shape like you can.
Now, let's not forget the other characters. Just because I have a preference for healers and tanks doesn't mean that the rogues and casters are useless. On the contrary, they provide invaluable opportunistic dps that can end a fight, sometimes so quickly that tanks and healers may not need to do anything. Let's take a look at the rogue first, shall we? The rogue, thief, scoundrel, etc. excels in the areas of skill usage. These skills include stealth, picking locks, disarming traps, diplomacy, crafting, acrobatics and so on and so forth. But in addition to this hefty tool belt, these scoundrels tend to get some type of sneak attack that grants them bonus damage. THIS IS KEY! If you're not using your sneak attack or at least finding some way to exploit the ability, you're not doing your job in combat. You should maintain stealth, stay away from your louder, less careful and perhaps more ostentatious companions *cough* WIZARDS *cough*. Being hidden is the best way to avoid being targeted. And by all accounts, not being attacked at all is the best defense. Of course, this constant stealth makes the scoundrel the most independent character in the game. That means that you can't really rely on others to help you out of a jam. Doing so will reduce the rest of your companions ability to function in combat. Guerilla tactics and skirmishing are what make you a force to be reckoned with. A scoundrel trying to take part in melee combat will not survive long, HIT AND RUN! You may not be as prominent in combat, but I guarantee that you'll survive much longer and dish out some respectable damage. Not only that, you'll make the job of controlling enemies a whole lot easier for everyone else.
Feeling like a mundane character isn't your thing? Looking for a little... pyoo pyoo? Maybe you should consider a career as a Gandalf or Potter? As a caster, you're a glass cannon, plain and simple. Of course, some people automatically assume that the higher the damage, the better the spell. While this is partially true, picking fireball and magic missile as your only two spells will more than likely get you killed. To understand why, you must understand the casters secondary role as a controller. What do controllers do? They manipulate the battlefield, grant allies tactical advantages and hamper the combat effectiveness of enemies. If you're not doing this, you're not being a very good caster and you're not worth protecting. Now you may be thinking, "If I manage to pump out godlike dps, then I don't need protection... lololol gg." <-If this is what you're thinking, you're retarded. A tank's job is to protect you, a healer's job is to make sure the tank doesn't die, the scoundrel's job is to keep the big enemies confused with pot shots. Your job is to make all of their jobs a ton easier. This ability to change the flow of combat is easily summed up into two words: Crowd Control. Pumping out high dps and killing enemies is definitely effective crowd control, but you can't guarantee that it will be as effective as you planned. It may not even work at all (Spell Immunity sucks balls). So what are your alternatives? You don't necessarily have to effect the enemies in question to keep them out of combat. Walls, oil slicks, breaking weapons, blinding, stunning, enthralling, etc. are all viable control options. While you may not deliver the killing blow yourself, you're definitely going to make sure that those enemies die. Just because you can dish out the most dps doesn't mean you should be a glory hog. Teamwork is the most important aspect of rpgs. You have a specific role, play it.
So there you go, the 4 primary roles in any rpg. These classes may be played differently and you may have a party that skimps out on a role or two, but if you decide to play a classic party, these are the strategies you should be using. Sometimes the circumstances are piled against you. There's not enough cover, quarters are too tight, we're outnumbered.... yes, these things do happen, but don't forget that your roles remain the same. Some people may have to work harder, some people may not be able to do their job. If this is the case, remember to keep loose, stay smart and try to find opportunities to do what YOU DO BEST. Remember, regardless of what class you pick, playing smart is always a good idea.