Calling them padders is being kind
Some people are just useless. Most players reading this week's article won't need to worry about having a bad build. The truth is, most Archetypes contribute well to a team if played right. The Specialist is an exception, as he must be carried (his damage is poor, he needs to be babied by healers, and he offers no advantages over another, more capable hero).
Freeform heroes can quickly fall into this category if built poorly. A quick look at a build guide or even my guide to T1 powers can be used to grab some decent offensive tools for any character at any level. Aside from that, just play smart: If you're a melee character, get Focus toggles, Aspects, or powers that ramp up Enrage. If you get Focus or Enrage, make sure you have points in STR or DEX. Spread your stats so that you don't have as many energy problems. If you're unsure of what to do, just pick up some good damaging powers, a defensive passive (or Aura of Radiant Protection), and some self-heals (Bionic Shielding or Support Drones being the best). It's not hard to turn a freeform character from something awful to something capable with just a few power picks.
The real source of incompetent party members is the player herself, the person sitting behind the keyboard. The next few sections will cover a bit of what to do and what not to do in a team, but the best thing you can do if you're new to a lair is hang back and wait for the team (and especially the tank) to engage.
Variable fighters for truth and justice
Hybrid characters are the most common character type to fill any team slot. They are most useful when your tank is less capable. A team of four hybrids and a support makes a fine team for most tough content.
I classify a hybrid specifically as survivable DPS. A more concise way to put it would be a DPS hero with a defensive passive who also has some self-healing. In practice, this means that the hybrid will need less babysitting by a healer and helps prevent healer aggro. It also means that the hybrid can engage small portions of a large group of enemies without needing backup.
All archetypes with a defensive passive (except the Specialist) fall into the hybrid role. This includes the "tank" archetypes Behemoth and Glacier; they are not really tanks and cannot hold threat or survive like a real tank. They do function well as off-tanks and contribute quite a bit to team damage, but they may need to be babysat a little bit since they do not have self-healing.
Hybrids should hang back as far as they can while still engaging the enemy. If that's in melee range, then they should get into melee range. For longer-range hybrids, they want to engage at maximum distance. The odds that stray AoE like Gigabolt will hit a neighboring spawn and cause a team wipe can be very high, especially in certain lairs like Destroyer's Robot Factory, Mandragalore, and the Serpent Lantern adventure pack. Hybrids should also be careful not to position themselves in such a way as to get knocked back into other spawns.
Mobs? What mobs?
After the hybrid, the dedicated DPS is the most common character you'll see looking for a team. I classify DPS specifically as someone who is in either Avenger or Brawler role. Other characters that can pass as DPS are damage-focused characters with Aura of Primal Majesty or Aura of Ebon Destruction. Among Archetypes, all Avengers and Brawlers qualify as DPS. The Void also qualifies as DPS, although she doesn't benefit from Avenger.
As a DPS character, your damage is actually a weakness in most teams due to the threat it generates. A DPS character must be focused on his lifebar at all times. If any serious damage starts incoming, start blocking and start praying that the healer gets to you. Good AoE DPS can melt baddies in instants, so these situations are often resolved before they happen. If a bad scenario does occur, though, you really need to know to block, because in most cases, you are in big trouble.
In a team with a good tank, DPS heroes become kings; fights end in seconds with minimal threat to anyone, including the tank. Pure DPS also makes boss fights much faster and smoother. Like hybrids, DPS heroes should engage at maximum range to avoid hitting nearby spawns with cone or column AoE.
Watch me while I faceplant!
The hybrid healer-DPS is probably the most challenging role to play in a team. Deaths are frequent for characters in this role because combining healer aggro with high damage and low survivability is a recipe for death. Much like the Avenger, the healer-DPS relies on tanks to keep bad guys away and has to do a lot of strategic blocking. The Inventor and Grimoire archetypes are good examples of this kind of hero. Among freeform heroes, the healer-DPS is a healer who uses one of the support passives (Medical Nanites, Seraphim or any aura except Radiant).
If you picked up heals and one of those passives, you'll want to be dealing good damage as well as healing. Virtually any good damage works, although Seraphim will want paranormal damage powers like Skarn's Bane or Ego Storm. The others can use any offensive type -- Fire is very common (since it has synergy with PRE and is amazing in general).
The main critical element of any healer-DPS is a good block. Since these heroes have no damage reduction, having a good block combined with high PRE and heal powers makes things a lot easier. The Inventor's Energy Shield, for instance, reduces tons of damage and is an ideal pick, especially since Medical Nanites often leads to unintended aggro.
As with DPS heroes, healer-DPSers need to be ready to block at any moment. Death lurks at every step! These heroes are very challenging for a tank to protect.
The one person who needs no help
The tank-healer hybrid is a most unusual hero. Of the archetypes, the Mind best exemplifies this role. In order to fit into this role, the tank-healer needs a tanky passive (either the Radiant aura or a defensive passive), some healing, and some CON. Your tank-healer also needs a way to handle energy management. Thermal Reverberation and Molecular Self-Assembly are common solutions, but there are others as well.
This character doesn't care about healer aggro, because she can tank the incoming damage and heal herself. She makes a really awesome, if strange, AoE tank, especially in a team of hybrids. As with anyone, tank-healers will want to block a lot of incoming damage. Tank-healers benefit a lot from pets (assuming they can offset the energy penalties) because pets can still affect the battle while they are blocking. The tank-healer can't really deal much damage, but she is almost impossible to kill. She may want to go in first to absorb the initial attacks of the enemy (while blocking) if her team lacks a solid tank.
The most important part of any team
No archetype covers the tanking role. In order to really qualify as a tank, you need high PRE and high CON (not necessarily superstatted but pretty high), a defensive passive, many ways to avoid dying, and several ways to generate threat.
AoE tanking is very hard; most attacks can only hit up to five enemies at once with Challenging Strikes. The tank's job is to hit as many groups of five as possible before allies start getting killed. This is exacerbated by the fact that Challenging Strikes is a debuff that slowly builds threat over time. The faster an AoE tank can apply the debuff to as many foes as possible, the more enemies will be under control as the battle progresses.
Boss tanking is more about numbers and less about skill. There are a few powers (Assault Rifle, Devour Essence, Defensive Combo) that deal much higher threat per second than other powers when coupled with Crippling Challenge. With high PRE, Challenging Strikes, and a high-threat ST attack, you can hold aggro from even the highest-DPS brawlers.
Of course, I must reiterate that being a tank is also about not dying. In practice, this means two to four self heals, one to two active defenses, a block power, one or two good single target taunts, and one or more good AoE taunts. If you have fewer than those, you're probably a hybrid DPS, not a tank. Being a tank is about getting aggro and staying alive. Killing the enemy is nice, and you can fit some powers in there that are suitable for the role, but staying alive is much more important.
That's all for this week. I intend to cover the roles in more detail at a later time, but for now, this is a basic guide. See you next week, when we'll talk about how to not die -- with style!
When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.