Skip to Primary Menu Skip to About OSR+ Menu Skip to OSR+ Support Menu Skip to Main Content

Field Notes

Roles Amongst Rolls

Part 1: The Basics

Everyone wants to know how and where they fit into the world. It’s just human nature. This concept extends into gaming as well, from real-life sporting events to imaginary roleplaying scenarios. In this series of articles I would like to take a look at how the OSR+ system eschews most of these defined roles introduced to us over the past few decades and instead encourages you to focus on your character first and foremost, naturally letting the group’s composition sort itself out.


Juggernaut MMORPG World of Warcraft introduced the vast majority of the gaming populace to the holy trinity of Tank/Healer/DPS, although it was present in earlier notable games such as EverQuest and as far back as 1981’s Wizardry. This structure made it very easy for players to determine what direction they would ultimately go when creating a character.

  • Do you like to rush into danger, protect those around you, and/or control the pace of things? Try being a Tank.
  • Would you rather hang toward the back and support your team as the natural caretaker that you are? Then Healer is probably for you.
  • Do you like seeing big numbers on the screen while you tunnel-vision your optimized rotation until everything barring your path forward is annihilated? Looks like you’re rolling DPS.

But things need to be a bit different in TTRPGs. In these games you’re not just joining up with a band of comrades to defeat whatever challenges a pre-programmed foe might throw at you, instead you are playing out a story refereed by your GM.

There is no way for the Tank to force the enemy to focus on them through a taunt mechanic; your Healer will most likely not have the resources to keep you “topped off”; and there is no one set way to face a battle encounter, so DPS shouldn’t be working out a rotation in between sessions. Furthermore, the game’s obstacles to the group don’t remain solely on the battlefield. Both social and environmental trials will test the party’s cohesion and capabilities. It’s not enough to just be a meat shield, a healbot, or a glass cannon: one must also be a menacing presence, a keeper of lore, or a stealthy scout, to name some examples.

And this is where OSR+ shines. You can take the most simple concept and let it blossom into whatever hero you could imagine. Or the character could die. Horribly. Or at least tragically, but either way I’m sure it’s a wonderful story and that’s the whole reason why we enjoy this pastime, right? But first, let’s see what "The World's Greatest Roleplaying Game" offers.

Roles in Fifth Edition D&D

Every TTRPG has its own way to approach these roles, but for the purpose of this article we’ll use Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition as an example. Popular Canadian Youtubers The Dungeon Dudes made a video that encouraged players to check boxes for their characters out of these seven defined roles: Front Line, Beatdown, Utility, Support, Investigator, Negotiator, and Infiltrator/Negotiator. Others, like optimization expert Treantmonk, have separated the rules into combat and non-combat roles. I appreciate both approaches, so we’ll be taking a cue from both.

In-Combat Roles

Out-of-Combat Roles

Roles in OSR+

Although every party in OSR+ will include different PCs with (hopefully) different backgrounds, story tags, and abilities, traditional roles like the ones listed above for aren’t necessarily there for the players to fill. 

Why is this? 

The main reason is because OSR+ is a narrative-driven TTRPG that isn't burdened by the crunchiness of D&D 5e and similar games.

Each player is given the opportunity to play their character in the way that they want upon starting a campaign. I’ve seen characters with a high Deft who were clumsy. How is this rationalized? Well, Deft doesn’t just define agility or guile, but it also encompasses wisdom and charm. So maybe the PC is just a loveable oaf of a friar that has had some deep real world experience.

By not saying that XYZ stats entails that you must be an ABC type character, OSR+ leaves the formation of the character’s archetype in the hands of the player. But that’s not to say that your decisions, when it comes to choosing origin, class, kit, attribute distribution, and skill selection have no bearing on who your character will be.

Archetypes in Lieu of Roles

When you watch any fictional media involving groups of people working together to face a common problem or enemy, you as the viewer don’t try to figure out which character is the Tank or which one is best suited as the Scout. Instead, we tend to recognize certain tropes that have developed over the millennia of storytelling in our human history. For example:

  • Oh, look, that guy’s a big burly behemoth of a man, but he has a soft spot for kittens! 
  • Sure, this character might be uptight and anal, but get a few drinks in her and she’ll literally let down her hair and be the life of the party.
  • That young wizard might be shy and insecure of his powers, but when the going gets tough and his friends are in trouble, watch him shine! 

Narrative-Driven Encounters

Just like how D&D 5e differs from video games in encounter design by not having a single solution pre-determined by the designers, OSR+ differs from 5e in that its way of approaching encounters is not limited to a list of possible actions on your character sheet. Instead, the player is asked to begin a negotiation with the GM via The Conversation. Sure, there most likely is going to be some rolling of dice involved, which will take into account your attributes, the skills you’ve chosen, and other factors that you decided upon before this chat began, but that’s where the similarity to most other TTRPGs ends. In OSR+, you're not only able to try to sway the GM’s opinion to allow you to twist the narrative toward your character’s favor, but you can potentially boost your chances by employing the use of story tags.

And if all else fails (sometimes literally), there’s always a Fate Point.

Bring the Player, Not the Class

Every good campaign begins with a Session Zero. Besides being a time to familiarize yourself with the other players and GM as well as decide on the tone and scope of the adventure, it's also the perfect opportunity to make sure there isn’t too much overlap in your group. Although it's important to undergo a Session Zero when starting an OSR+ campaign, avoiding overlap isn’t as necessary. This is because the modularity of the system’s character creation allows for great variety, even when you're playing the same class or kit. Let me give you an example.

Four of us were going to be a part of an "OSR+ Short": basically, a one-shot adventure that we knew would last a couple more sessions than the term generally implies. We were told the setting would be a bit spooky. As we started sharing characters, we quickly learned that three out of the four PCs were clerics (I almost always play martial classes, so I was the odd man out). At first, people started to offer to play something else, but as we looked more closely, we discovered that each character was decidedly different, thanks to both their kits and story tags:

Hanna Granger (Empath Cleric) is an empathic traveling priest who laments the recent loss of her dog, Blue.

Monica (Medium Cleric) is a charlatan fortune teller with the latent ability to speak with the dead (and the obvious need to speak to everyone else)

Miran (Necromancer Cleric) is a mysterious necromancer with questionable interests and motives.

So even though each player picked the same class and even though they all have similar attribute distribution, what each player brings to the table carries the PCs in completely different directions, allowing them to affect the narrative in their own, unique ways.

Breaking Down Attributes/Skills

All that being said, picking the right attributes and skills to complement the persona you wish to portray is still extremely important! Below is a quick breakdown of what each attribute contributes. In future articles, I will look into each mechanic in further detail as well as give some possible templates to fulfill all your cinematic tropes.


  • Represents strength, constitution, and presence of mind. 
  • Adds HP per point. Requirement for shield use and armor class.
  • Also increases the slots you have in your inventory.
  • Raises MP pool by 1 point for Psychics, Bards, and non-casters on character creation.
  • Skills: Athletics, Influence, Survival; Psionics; Blunt, Edged, Flexible, Heavy, Reach, Unarmed. 


  • Represents agility, wisdom, and guile.
  • Adds defense per point. Always used for stealth.
  • Raises MP pool by 1 point for Clerics, Bards, and non-caster on character creation.
  • Skills: Culture, Lore, Perception, Performance, Reflexes; Thaumaturgy; Light, Missile, Small, Thrown


  • Represents knowledge, memory recall, and reason.
  • Adds to skills known. Increases spells known for caster classes.
  • Also increases languages known.
  • Raises MP pool by 2 points for Mages & 1 point for Psionics and Clerics on character creation.
  • Skills: Crafting, Domain Knowledge, Nature, Trade; Sorcery; Firearms

The Takeaway

Unlike most other roleplaying games, OSR+ asks the players to focus on how the story fits into their characters’ past, present, and future rather than where they fit into the story that’s being told.

When presented with a problem or an encounter, an OSR+ player is not limited to just what’s on their character sheet, and therefore shouldn’t feel constrained by what part they might be shoehorned into in other games.

Ultimately, it’s up to the player, and not a book of rules, to define who their PC is and will become!

More in Roles Amongst Rolls...


If we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes should fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.

0 Comments on

Roles Amongst Rolls

Leave Comment

Your email will not be published. Please observe proper netiquette while posting: no abusive or malicious behavior, and please stay on topic.

You reached the end of the comments. Return to top of comments?

Are you sure?