This column provides advice for DMs whose campaigns are in trouble. Do your players constantly bicker or complain about issues both inside and outside of the main campaign action? Do your best ideas fall flat? Have you set up a situation that you now wish you hadn't? Worry no more, because Jason Nelson-Brown has the answers to save your game!
Problem: No Wizards or Bards
Every time I DM a group, everyone wants to play with their normal classes, but no one wants to play Bard or Wizard. Can you suggest some ways I can convince my players to take such classes?
-- Edward, AskWizards.com
This is a question in search of a problem. So no one wants to play a bard or wizard. So what?
Players play what they like to play, what they feel they are good at playing, and sometimes even what they that they have time to play. They may not have the energy or intellectual spare change to play a complicated character, as wizards and bards can be. They may also be playing wizards or bards in other campaigns (if they play in more than one D&D game on a regular basis). Or maybe they just don’t like those classes. Players are there to have fun, to participate in the shared game the way they want to. Your job as the DM is to do the same, not to shoehorn them into preconceived roles that you chose. Just because the Fellowship of the Ring and the Wizards of the Lance had a wizard in the party doesn’t mean your players need to have one to be a ‘real’ band of epic heroes.
This is a problem only if you have designed some critical element in the campaign that must be solved by a bard or wizard -- which I would say is bad design on your part and something that should be easier for you to fix than to compel or convince players to play classes of characters that don’t interest them.
Now it might be true that things will be harder for your characters in some ways if they don’t have a wizard or bard in the party. A bard can make the characters’ combat capabilities much greater, especially in a large party, and their social skills can sometimes turn potential combats into ‘just keep on walking’ encounters. A wizard has both high-damage combat spells and immense versatility and may also be a source for making magic for the party. But neither is indispensable to an adventuring group any more than any other class is. Even in an undead-heavy campaign, you don’t have to have a cleric. Sure, it makes things easier, maybe even a lot easier, but you can get by without one.
So to answer your question about how to persuade them to play these classes, the simplest answer is: don’t. If you really feel it is important, describe the elements in the setting, campaign, or even just your DMing style that make having a bard or wizard an advantage vs. not having one. Recommend that it would be good for the party to have one or both of those classes. Maybe someone will take you up on it. If they don’t, too bad for them. They choose what they play, and they take the consequences of their choices.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ask your players why no one is interested in playing a bard or a wizard. They may give you any number of reasons, including the ones above. But they may tell you there are mechanical things about the way the class is designed that they don’t like. They may say the class is “too wimpy” and a clearly worse option than other character choices. This is a different matter, because this moves the choice of character type from the realm of taste and preference to an objective evaluation of its worth. This may be a place where you can negotiate with your players, and find out exactly what their issues are with the design of the class and what remedies they might suggest.
If you think the classes are fine the way they are and the players disagree, then you must agree to disagree and accept that no one will play a bard or wizard. If you think their arguments have some merit, then you might think about tinkering with the game mechanics and the design of the class. Maybe wizards could trade their familiar for some other character option or gain extra bonus feat selections. You could broaden the scope of bardic music, allowing it to have more uses. Look at the series of Complete books for feats that broaden character options with their class abilities, to say nothing of new spells (though most of the spells have been updated and compiled in the Spell Compendium). Unearthed Arcana and the Player’s Handbook II have suggestions for ‘trade-ins’ of class abilities for lots of classes which might be more to your players’ liking (though most of the ones for wizards are designed for specialist wizards rather than generalists). You can also, of course, design your own alternative class abilities that fit within the general theme of a wizard or bard and that are more in line with what your players are looking for.
If you really do feel it is important to encourage players to go for one of these classes, and it seems their issue is rooted in rules or game mechanics, refer them to resources that provide choices for tailoring the classes to make them more appealing. Use published resources or create your own, but before you go around generating a list of a dozen new class abilities and 20 feats, all of which might be equally unappealing to your players, talk to them, and find out what they are looking for. DMs have enough work to do without adding more to the pile of things that are not going to get used.
Of course, a good DM never throws anything away, so you could always use your ideas for the NPCs in your game …
About the Author
Jason Nelson-Brown lives in Seattle with his wife Kelle, daughters Meshia and Indigo, son Allen, and dog Bear. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.