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Utility Party Member

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"You take care of the orcs, I take care of the traps."
Mr. Welch, playing a D&D thief

Player Party-based Role-Playing Games, of both tabletop and computer varieties, often feature combat as a core gameplay element, where each party member has a specific role, such as the Damager, Healer, Tank trifecta. However, in games that also feature a non-combat skill system, an additional archetype emerges that is defined not by its combat specialization, but by its mastery of a variety of skills that the party may need outside of combat. This trope is about such party members (also known as "skill monkeys" among D&D players).

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In a broader sense, a Utility Party Member is any character who occupies an active party slot and lowers the party's overall battle-readiness, but their usefulness outside of combat makes their inclusion a good trade-off.

This is a gender-neutral subtrope of Non-Action Guy and, in many video games, of Non-Player Companion. The most common subtype found in Dungeon Crawling games is a Master of Unlocking; in rarer cases, their primary role may be a Human Pack Mule or Sensor Character. May overlap with the Quirky Bard, The Smart Guy, or The Face (when they focus on diplomacy and/or haggling). Compare The Medic, whose main function is to heal, not to fight (though a Combat Medic tries to strike a balance).

The closest Real Life equivalents are the many support vocations found in most modern military formations. Engineers, signalers, medics, logistical support troops and the like can fight if pressed but they are best employed in their designated roles.

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See also Support Party Member, Mechanically Unusual Class (which Utility Party Members may be), Utility Weapon and Ability Required to Proceed (which Utility Party Members may have).


Examples

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    RPG — Eastern 
  • Pokémon titles prior to Generation VII required certain field moves called "Hidden Machines" or "HMs" to be taught to a party Pokemon in order to traverse the overworld. Most of these moves were only useful as navigation tools, with minimal utility in battle (Flash being the most infamous example in the series). As a result, many players capture a Mon that can learn most of them, generally referred to as a "HM slave", letting their other five monsters keep their movesets completely geared for battle.
  • Golden Sun: It's possible (but frankly stupid) to make one character hold all the non-combat Psynergy-bestowing items (such as freezing water into ice pillars or lifting boulders out of the way). Stupid because the game averts Bag of Sharing, every character has at least one non-combat skill that sees regular use, and mana is regenerated by walking around, making it more efficient to spread it around the party.
  • In Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, you have to recruit mates to have more than one ship in your fleet. In addition to the navigators, you can also appoint mates to non-combat roles that let them bring their special skills to the table without ever participating in battles. For instance, a Chief Navigator with the Celestial Navigation perk allows you to auto-sail to any known port, while a Book Keeper with Accounting and Negotiation helps you get better prices for your goods at the market.
  • In Fire Emblem, thieves and dancers/bards tend to be this; their combat skills are lacking (in the latter's case, they sometimes can't fight at all), and the main reason to have them is to steal items/pick locks and give your other party members extra turns, respectively.
    • The sixth and seventh games included a character named Merlinus, a merchant who handled your spare items. He couldn't fight (and, in the seventh game, couldn't even move until late in the game), but you could send him items when a character's inventory got too full, and take items out again if you stood next to him. He was pretty much useless in the sixth game, though, since he took up a deployment slot, had no convenient means of leveling up, and you could send items to him regardless of whether he was on the field or not. The seventh game changed this by allowing him to level up each time he survived a chapter, giving him his own unique deployment slot rather than using one that could go to someone else, and making it so he must be on the field in order for you to send items to him, making his survival far more important.
    • In some games, units initially locked to staves could be seen as this (and when they promote, attacking is just one more utility.) Tina from Thracia 776 fits this the most, as she has two staves locked solely to her which basically let her serve as a thief from long distance: The first, Thief, allows her to steal from any unit in range with a lower magic stat (and "in range" is pretty damn far), while the other is called the Unlock staff and opens locked doors. The GBA games also had an Unlock Staff, as well as a Torch Staff which would create a circle of visibility centered around any point in the user's long-distance staff range in Fog of War chapters.
  • Queen Frieda from One Way Heroics downplays this. While she is decent in a fight, her main use is her ability to unlock sealed doors, which would normally require a rare, one-use Key of Seals, and which guard rare Holy items.
  • Etrian Odyssey has "Survivalists", including Flavio in The Fafnir Knight, who have the Forager skill which lets them get bonuses from picking at any supply point (most classes can only get bonuses from one), and "Farmers" who trade the ability to fight for resource gathering, cheap resurrection, a quick way back to town, and experience boosts for the rest of the party.
  • Ember from Cthulhu Saves the World is a dragon who can dish out and take lots of damage, but what makes him even more useful is his ability to take-off into air with the entire party on his back.
  • Ragnarok Online: The Merchant class tree was this. Although they had skills geared towards fighting meelee combat and the use of axes, they are not any more exceptional at fighting that other classes, however, they offer a multitude of bonuses where the market system is concerned, this includes discounts when buying and higher selling cost when in NPC stores and carrying much more items than other classes, which is great for long dungeon crawling, since carrying over 50% of your weight limit will stop your auto heal, and identify unknown items without using a magnifying glass. They're also the only class that can set up a market and sell extremely rare items for over millions, so their presence in a guild's budget in notable. Their evolved classes will also become specialists into creating things: Blacksmith will forge weapons and give them bonus while Alchemist will create potions and solutions that can be used for healing or special effects (and later in the class evolution tree, also summon monsters for fighting).

    RPG — Western 
  • Thieves in the Baldur's Gate series, which is obvious since the games are based on D&D. While they can make powerful combatants, they are primarily used for sneaking around, picking locks and detecting/disarming traps. While a couple of other classes have these abilities, it is to a much lesser degree and never all three together. When one isn't playing solo, a thief is almost a mandatory party member.
  • Mission Vao and T3-M4 are both skill monkeys in Knights of the Old Republic. T3-M4 is a utility droid specializing in Intelligence-based skills (in which he, with consistent upgrades, can reach truly inhuman levels), while Mission belongs to the Scoundrel class, meaning that she gets a lot of skill points per level and has the broadest selection of class skills to invest them in.
  • T3 returns in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, alongside Bao-Dur, whose Tech Specialist class alongside his potential +3 Intelligence modifier (he joins the party at level 7) gives him a whopping seven skill points per level, making him even better than T3! Mira also can fulfill this role due to her Scout class (which gives her many "class skills", making skill development easier) and high Intelligence, although not as well.
  • Played with in the original Dungeon Siege: instead of recruiting another adventurer, you can instead fill one or two of the eight party slots with donkeys who cannot participate in combat at all. Instead, their "special skill" is being able to carry twice as much Plunder as regular party members.
  • A Dance with Rogues is geared towards being played as a skill monkey (namely, the 3rd edition D&D rogue) to whatever companions you happen to travel with, to the point where you gain more XP from using skills than from defeating enemies.
  • Jade Empire has Kang the Mad, who maintains the party's Cool Plane, Henpecked Hou, who gives players wine to practice Drunken Boxing and Zin Bu the Magic Abacus, who's a shopkeeper that can be accessed anywhere. All the characters have a Support stance where rather than fighting they sit in place and buff or heal you.
  • Rogues in Dragon Age: Origins are this, thanks to receiving non-combat skill points every two levels (instead of every three, like warriors and mages). If the Warden isn't a rogue, then Leliana and Zevran become the party's skill monkeys.
  • Sentinels like Kaidan and Engineers like Tali in Mass Effect are the resident utility party members. Both possess the Decryption talent for unlocking item crates and the Electronics talent for hacking terminals. Shepard can naturally become this themselves if you play as Sentinel or Engineer.
  • Although Mass Effect 2 doesn't have any non-combat gameplay skills, Professor Mordin Solus is the resident skill monkey aboard the Normandy. Despite his special forces training, his age makes him a lousy combatant compared to other squadmates, and he has little to contribute during the combat-heavy Suicide Mission endgame. However, his technical expertise allows you to install the ship upgrades that save many lives during said Suicide Mission, and it is he who develops the Collector swarm countermeasures that allow the party to survive the Horizon mission.
  • In Wasteland 2, party members with high Intelligence tend to become this, thanks to getting more skill points per level. The Hot Scientist Rose stands out in particular among recruitable NPCs thanks to being the only one with Int 10, thus getting 5 skill points per level and inevitably ending up as the party's skill monkey (if you find her in time, that is).
  • Deckers in Shadowrun Returns. They typically have limited skill with weapons, and can't carry as many, due to needing a inventory slot for their cyberdecks. They're also mandatory if you want to break into a computer system, which are omnipresent in the game's Cyberpunk setting.
  • In ZanZarah: The Hidden Portal, you must keep a faery of a specific element in your party's first slot for the corresponding Elemental Cards to function, and since you can only swap out faeries in London, you may have to trade off some combat efficiency for the ability to clear environmental obstacles. This is particularly egregious in the case of Air faeries, who are needed every time you have to leap over some air eddies (unlike the boulders and prickly bushes, which disappear for good once a Stone or Nature faery works its magic on them).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Throughout all editions of the game, the Rogue/Thief core class has traditionally been the utility class, with the lion's share of skills and abilities that come into play outside of combat, such as climbing, eliminating traps, opening locks and appraising items. The bulk of these abilities, as you might guess, involving the acquiring of loot.
    • The 3.5e Factotum class is designed as a Jack of All Trades, receiving access to every skill in the game and even more skill points than the rogue, and can also emulate the abilities of most other classes to a limited extent. In particular a factotum's ability to cast wizard spells is too limited to become a major part of his fighting style, but he can access almost any wizard spell in the game if given enough time, making him perfectly suited to casting Utility Magic between encounters.
    • In 5e Rogues share the spot with Bards. The difference is that Bards can do a bit of everything (Jack of All Trades: add 1/2 proficiency to all non-proficient ability checks), while Rogues can do really well in things they already know (Reliable Talent: for all proficient ability checks, treat all d20 result of 9 or lower as 10).
  • Pathfinder:
    • Being based on D&D, the game also casts Rogues as the party's skill monkeys,
    • The game gives Bards more abilities to serve as a Utility character, allowing them to make all Knowledge checks untrained and get a bonus to them, and has an ability that lets them use performance skills as two (specific for the performance skill) other skills saving on skill points.
    • The Investigator is a hybrid of Alchemist and Rogue gains a lot of bonuses to (mainly Intelligence-based) skills at the cost of rather mediocre combat performance, making it a Utility class.
  • Classes of the Scout archetype in Descent: Journeys in the Dark generally have one or two class abilities that mainly concern recovering treasure cards scattered across the encounter map, so that task naturally falls to them while the rest of the party fights monsters. In particular, most of the Treasure Hunter's abilities in the Labyrinth of Ruin expansion are Luck Manipulation Mechanics concerning search cards, while the Thief from the base game can recover them at a distance, Discard and Draw them, and also open doors as a free action.
  • In Black Crusade, while a heretek can be a "warrior" member in a fully human party, he's clearly the utility member of a party that includes Chaos Space Marines (especially as there is no Chaos Space Marine equivalent to his archetype in the core rulebook, so a full-CSM party would be lacking on this point).
  • While Shadowrun doesn't use classes per se, common archetypes players use are the "Hacker/Decker", who works in the Matrix and security networks, and the "Face", who handles social situations. There's also the "Odd-jobs man/B&E expert", in general the fifth character (after the Samurai/Adept, Mage, Decker and Face have been made) who picks a bunch of Boring, but Practical skills like stealth, acrobatics and lockpicking that the more Min-Maxing-intensive archetypes above can't afford to take but which come up more often than you'd think.
  • Blades in the Dark puts an unusual spin on this trope: rather than physical combat, the bulk of its gameplay is dedicated to criminal excursions or "scores", with downtime activities played out in-between. While most playbooks focus on abilities relevant in the course of the scores (e.g. the Cutter's brawling skills, the Lurk's lockpicking, and the Slide's fast talking), the Spider is a Diabolical Mastermind whose abilities almost exclusively come into play during downtime. Thus, while a crew with a Spider in it is somewhat handicapped during scores, they have it a lot easier in the long run.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, the creatures in most "Combo" and "Control" decks qualify. Rarely are they chosen for their power and toughness. Instead, they are included for the abilities they possess to synergize with the other cards in the deck.
  • In Star Wars d20, most of a Noble's combat related talents revolve around buffing the party and they can't take most combat feats, but they have the most starting skills note  and can do basically everything that isn't fighting: healing, diplomacy, knowledge checks, etc. Similarly Scouts have only slightly fewer starting skills than Nobles but have a lot of talents based around tracking and wilderness survival.
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    Non-Interactive Media 
  • In The Gamers: Natural One, Leo plays the team's Decker—a specialist who hacks computers with his mind (they are playing Cyberrun, mind you, and definitely not Shadowrun). His hacking skills (and his sheer audacity) get the team into the villain's base, but during the final boss fight, he is promptly immobilized, then falls under the villain's Mind Control... and is quickly ridiculed by the party because he cannot even shoot them without his gun instantly jamming. Also, Ryan discovers a natural talent at playing The Team Benefactor and The Face types of UPM, and never actually successfully attacks anyone in the entire game.
  • In Mushoku Tensei, Gisu is this and relying instead on his out of combat abilities. He also comments that in one adventuring party, there must be one person whose role is non-combat. Traveling Merchants, especially in Begaritto and Magic Continent, also fit this trope.
  • In Konosuba, Kazuma is this to compensate his teammates' Crippling Overspecialization. Unique as he is the protagonist in the franchise.
  • In Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, the Supporter Class is this. They primarily act as Human Pack Mule but may also additional healing and damage dealing. So they are sometimes looked down by other adventurers for their non-combat roles.
  • In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, only two of the five selectable characters for the Jumanji game (Smolder Bravestone and Ruby Roundhouse) have any skills in combat while the other characters have absolutely no ability to fight and very situational abilities (Finbar has a backpack and is highly knowledgeable about animals, Shelly is the only character that can read the map and Seaplane is a pilot who can fly aircrafts).
  • In Voltron: Legendary Defender, the blue lion lacks the fire power of the other lions, but posseses more utility options.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero, Naofumi has shades of this. Although he is quite a powerful tank, his Holy Weapon has no attack options. It does however have several Mundane Utility functions (such as the Rope Shield that helps in traversal) and allows Naofumi to craft potions, equipment and alchemical compounds. It also gives XP boosts to the Shield Hero's pets and slaves.

Alternative Title(s): Skill Monkey, Non Combat Skill Guy

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