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  • Aaron K

Critical Party Roles, Part 4: The Party Survivalist

Hey Reader!

We continue the Critical Roles series by looking at the Party Survivalist. For those who may be new to the series, this is a series discussing the critical roles that should be filled by the players in your group, not the characters in your group, though this one has a lot of overlap with the likely way you've built the character.

While the Chronicler and Quartermaster don't necessarily need to be characters who can roll well in a particular skill to fulfill their roles, the Survivalist will likely need to make rolls to fulfill their function, though I'd wager that most players (including you reading this right now) limit those rolls to a narrow set when it should be much wider. So let's take a look at the most commonly filled role: the Survivalist.

I. The Party Survivalist

There is typically at least one person who sits down to build a character and says, "You know what I hate the most? People sneaking up on me and my mates and taking us by surprise. And do you know what I hate almost as much as that? Choosing to setup camp in a place that facilitates that when we could just avoid it by, you know, picking a better place to make camp." That person is your Survivalist.

The Survivalist serves multiple functions, all of which have a "farseer" role for the party: keep an eye on the surround when traveling, chooses good places to make camp for the night, and coordinates the watches when one or more members of the party are sleeping. The Survivalist is constantly asking the question, "What might be a threat to the party, and what plans and contingencies can we build for those incidents?"

This has amazing value for the party which barely needs to be mentioned: less chance of thing sneaking up on the party, inflicting damage that could be avoided with vigilance. But there are also advantages to the game master, all of which tie to the game experience of the group.

A group with a Survivalist means the GM knows who will likely be performing the sensory roll (which is the Search/Investigation/Perception roll in your game) and can plan accordingly. Is the Survivalist familiar with animals (a Ranger, Nature Cleric, Wookie beastrider, etc.)? Your GM can focus on those details when planning out descriptions, as what you would notice would stem partially from what your background is.

In one of the groups I'm running I'm pleased to have a boy scout in the group who fills the role of Survivalist (whether he knows it or not, that's what he does - he's also the Party Leader). And the fact he knows more about outdoors stuff than the average person means that I can describe things he sees in ways that others around the table may not understand, but it tells him what he needs to know. This allows him to then translate it to the group, make deductions, and give recommendations, allowing him to shine in the group beyond just making a good roll.

This, if I may take pride in this, is the heart of how to make the Survivalist feel amazing in their role, because every assumes they will roll well (because they traited in it). This is what allows the Survivalist to feel like they are more than just a character designed to roll well on perception: they themselves, as they player, are fulfilling a necessary niche that serves the group.

II. Survivalists: Legolas, Jor El, and Muldoon

It doesn't surprise me that when most people think about the Survivalist role an elf of some sort comes to mind. In The Fellowship of the Ring this role is filled by Legolas and Aragorn as they help to guide the party away from danger, scout the area, and keep track of potential dangers as they travel.

So a good survivalist will keep a wary eye out for danger. That much you don't need a blog to tell you.

But it can take other forms as well - consider Jor El from the not-so-amazing-but-not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been movie Superman Returns. Jor El is the father of the boy we all know as Clark Kent/Superman, and Russell Crowe does an amazing job playing the character. Little more than a hologram and personal security system, Jor El highlights one of the critical roles that the Survivalist fills: prediction. Jor El thinks ahead: he anticipates what will come and acts accordingly.

What separates the Survivalist from people in the party who happen to be good at Search, Detect, Investigation, Perception, etc. is that they are already thinking through potential fears/risks before they make the roll. This then informs what they tell the game master they are looking for (which is something everyone should do: the, "Okay - I rolled X, now what do I notice?" is not the ideal. Players should be telling the GM specifically what their character is looking for, so that their success is focused in a particular direction).

This means that you can have a high-Lore Survivalist: you could have a person who may not be the best in the group for perception, but they can identify and plan out the next steps to keep the party one step ahead. Maybe they know a lot about nature, or animals, or magic, or they have a shady background and know a lot about high-end security systems - you get the idea.

And this brings us to one of the ways that it can be done poorly: some Survivalists will get tunnel vision when they fulfill the role, constantly looking for the same thing. You see this in a lot of sci-fi movies and the like, but one of the first I ever saw was Muldoon in Jurassic Park, played by Robert Peck. Muldoon is the first "main" character we meet, and he's responsible for maintaining the security of the raptors going to Jurassic Park.

As the movie progresses, he portrays pride in his work through vigilance, constantly staying one step ahead of the raptors to insure that they don't escape their cages.

And then he doesn't see something coming: all of the power being knocked out by a massive storm and a renegade T-Rex. He is always present when the party comes near the raptors, and is even willing (as far as we can tell) to hunt them down if it means keeping Hammond and the rest of the group safe. But his tunnel vision prevents him from remembering the dangers of the situation he is in.

And the rest, like him and as they say, is history.


Survivalists are critical to any group for obvious reasons. Again, you don't need a blog to tell you that. And as we mentioned at the start, this is the role that is probably always filled in your gaming group: I've rarely seen a group that doesn't develop one of these organically as time goes on if they don't start with one.

So if you fill this critical role for your group, take pride in it: you're one of the most critical members of the team, even if it may feel at times like drudgery always having to check ahead, come up with contingency plans, and stay one step ahead of disaster.

Until next time,




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