Building the Best Pathfinder Party

This is a post about Pathfinder the Card Game by Paizo for those who are familiar with the game.

While it may seem that the party possibilities are endless, there are obvious ways to optimize your party and avoid duplication that are worth a look.  Of course, it depends upon exactly how large your party is, but even then I think there are some obvious archetypes to establish in your party right away.  Where things get interesting is that while there are many roles you need filled in your party, there are many characters can fill two or more of them at a time.  This discussion is based on the Rise of the Runelords set, but the principles should pretty well apply to the other Pathfinder sets as well.

Obviously, you want to check the boxes of as many of the skills as you can, all of them if possible, as well as having characters who can make high rolls on each of the attributes, in order to be able to making closing checks as well as other checks.  Here are some tables to help with this.

But then, you also have to fill a lot of key roles, not just sets of attributes and skills.  Who can you count on to slay the big monster?  Who is good at overcoming barriers?  Who can explore a location quickly?  Here’s a quick summary of some of the boxes you want to check, and I’ve got the actual boxes to check at the bottom.

Strength Fighter – Uses strength-based weapons

Dex Fighter – Uses dexterity-based weapons

Distance Weapon – Uses ranged weapons, almost all are dexterity-based so this might be your Dex Fighter

Light Armor – Uses light armor to avoid damage, all Strength fighters can use and most Dex fighters

Heavy Armor – Uses heavy armor to avoid damage; better than light armor, most Strength fighters can use

Arcane Caster – Utilizes highly-useful Arcane spells for combat, aid, and scouting

Divine Caster/Healer – Utilizes Divine spells for healing, combat and aid

Explorer – Utilizes blessings and/or allies to explore quickly

Scout – Examines locations either though special abilities or magic

Hammer – Consistently kills tough bad guys without requiring help from others

Locksmith – Consistently beats barriers

Checkmaker – Well-rounded and can make a variety of checks.

This in turn leads to 4 primary archetypes: the Strength Fighter, the Divine Caster, the Arcane Caster, and Utility Characters.  All the Paizo characters fit into one of these 4 buckets.

Before getting into some of the characters and roles, let’s establish that Paizo did a great job of making every character capable in multiple ways.  Every character can be geared/spec’d towards being a great combatant who slays monsters, but some characters are easier to gear and spec in this way, and are more oriented towards fighting monsters than others.  When making such comparisons, there are always those who claim their favorite character is great at slaying monsters, to which I say:  Sure, they all CAN do it, but as it is with everything else in life, some are better at it than others.  For example, the Wizard can be spec’d to have a lot of combat spells and become an effective combatant in that way, but in comparison, the Sorcerer has a combat spell built-in so that she’s ALWAYS ready to fight, no matter how you spec her or what she’s got in her hand at the given moment, plus you can spec her with even more combat spells if desired.   The Wizard’s assortment of spells grants him more overall flexibility, but the Sorcerer is the better fighter, pure and simple.  So take all this with a grain of salt, understand that I’ve played every character through multiple adventures and any favorites I have are a result of that experience.

Strength Fighter

The most obvious archetype, though what might not be so obvious is that consistently slaying monsters is actually not as essential as having a character who will acquire and use the game’s strength-based weapons, and armor.  Getting good weapons and armor will in turn make the Fighter a very capable slayer of monsters.  The fighter options are Valeros the Fighter, Amiri the Barbarian and Seelah the Paladin.  All 3 have strengths and weaknesses but when in doubt, go with the Fighter over the other 2.

The Fighter is the most straightforward of the 3, and might be the most straightforward character in the game.  He acquires weapons and heavy armor, he fights, and he wins.  He can be your Hammer, aid characters in the same location, or my personal preference, carry ranged weapons to aid characters in other locations.  His lack of blessings makes him slow and he doesn’t really make any checks outside of combat, even his Diplomacy isn’t that great, but he sure can fight.

The Barbarian is similar to the Fighter, a highly capable fighter and Hammer who does little else.  Unlike the Fighter she only uses light armor, but that’s typically enough anyways.  She also can – and should, IMO – make use of ranged weapons to help other party members.  Her special movement ability is something the Fighter doesn’t have and can be very useful, especially in larger parties or when the rules get more advanced.  The trade-off from gaining movement is that she’s even less useful than the Fighter at making checks, Survival being her only extra skill, and she’s not even that great at it.  Use her if you’re going to play at higher levels, but if you’re going to play at lower levels, stick with the Fighter.

The Paladin is trickier to play than the Fighter or Barbarian and plays a slightly different role that is less oriented in slaying monsters but provides much more versatility.  In the long run, the Paladin brings more abilities to the table, but her D8+2 melee strength is clearly inferior to the D10+3 of the Fighter and D12+2 of the Barbarian.  She can make use of all strength-based weapons and heavy armor, but her own combat ability simply isn’t consistently strong enough to be the party’s primary Hammer.  Her access to magic can eventually make her a really strong hybrid fighter/spellcaster but in the early going she has only a single spell, which doesn’t help so much as it dilutes her abilities a bit and makes her less straightforward than the Fighter or Barbarian.   Unlike the other 2 fighter characters, however, she has enough blessings to be more of an explorer, and her special abilities make her much more versatile at making a variety of checks, which can be highly useful in closing off locations.  If you have another character who can be your Hammer like the Sorcerer or Monk, and can live with the Paladin’s relative combat struggles early on, she becomes a real force of nature as her game gets rounded out and will end up a more dynamic party member than the Fighter or Barbarian.

Divine Spellcaster/Healer

Even in a 2-person party, I’m probably going to want a Healer, who also fills the role of Divine spellcaster, to where I don’t need to separate that role out.  The reasons for wanting both healing and the access to magic in your party are obvious, as are the characters who can fill the role.  Kyra the Cleric and Lini the Druid are both very good, and you really can’t go wrong with either.  Kyra is a more specialized healer and generally a more capable fighter.  Lini provides a more well-rounded game and her plethora of spells grants her more flexibility.

The Cleric might be the game’s most specialized character with her built-in healing ability, which makes her the best pure healer in the game.  To go with this, she has a well-rounded set of abilities:  Decent combat ability through access to weapons and Divine spells, ability to explore quickly or help others with blessings, an undead-killing ability that comes up more often than you’d think, and when everything else fails, she has heavy armor to save her.  Her healing specialization and ability to explore quickly are what differentiate her the most, and her access to heavy armor makes her an especially good complement to the Barbarian, who uses light armor.  Her downside is that she only has 3 spells and needs time and experience to build herself into a truly useful spell caster, and needs offensive spells to slug it out with the big boys.

The Druid is different from the Cleric in a variety of ways.  For all her animal-loving abilities, the Druid is actually the game’s second most prolific spellcaster to the Wizard, with 6 spells in her deck.  This allows her to carry 3 healing spells as your main healer, but also some offensive, scouting, or aid spells.  Plus, her animal helper ability makes her one of the most versatile check-makers in the game, always with a chance to succeed.  Finally, she doesn’t use weapons or armor, which actually simplifies her role in the party.  Her only downsides compared to the Cleric is she doesn’t always have a heal spell the way the Cleric does – and we’ve seen that come up – and she can struggle in combat a bit.  If she doesn’t have an offensive spell to burn, she relies on her “warg” ability, which requires a discard, and still isn’t that great in terms of combat, even with help from an animal ally.

Arcane Caster

If you have a third character in your party, I would strongly consider one who can add access to the Arcane.  Arcane spells are some of the game’s most powerful, can be used to examine or manipulate location decks, or as aid in combat and other checks.  Ezren the Wizard and Seoni the Sorceror are your best bets for Arcane magic, though Lem the Bard can handle the job and grant other advantages.

If you have a smaller party, the Sorceror might be the better choice, since her Diplomacy and blessings are real assets in gaining allies, aiding and exploring.  Unlike the other 2 arcane casters, the Sorcerer can be the primary Hammer of your party.  Most characters can stomp monsters when they have the right weapons or spells, etc.  The Sorcerer’s fireballs grant her the unique ability of being ready to fight at all times, and her access to Arance magic allows you to give her some of the best combat abilities in the game, if desired.  The Sorcerer is similar to the Cleric in that they both have their main spell at all times through their special abilities, but otherwise only carry 3 other spells, making them less flexible than other magic users and needing experience to add more spells to their repertoire.  In the meantime, both have a lot of blessings they can aid or explore with.  The Sorcerer’s combat ability, while formidable, drains a card every time, and it’s tempting to play her many blessings to explore aggressively.  In short, her health can be a challenge to manage and she’s tough to play without a healer to aid her.

If you already have a Hammer, you should really take the Wizard, who is really more of a pure spellcaster than the Sorcerer or anyone else, for that matter.  He’s also the only character with high Intelligence, an attribute that can’t be replaced by literally anyone else.  His 7 spells can be flexed to whatever the party needs, though he’s going to need at least some offense as he’s got very little to rely upon otherwise.  The Wizard can be a bit slow in exploring and get exposed in combat if he doesn’t have offense spells, relying on mediocre dexterity and a single weapon.  At the same time, the game has locations and items that appear to be created almost specifically for him.  He’s a more challenging but more interesting play than the Sorcerer, in my opinion, especially if you have another character like the Fighter to cover Diplomacy.  Like the Sorcerer, he’s fragile and you have to keep an eye on his health.

A third option for Arcane caster is the Bard.  He’s not the pure spellcaster that the Wizard is, nor the combatant that the Sorcerer is, but has a greater range of abilities and applications.  Having access to both types of spells lets him maximize his exploration capabilities, as well as his ability to make a variety of checks with his special abilities plus aid from items and allies, and skills in Knowledge and Diplomacy.  He also possesses a nifty ability to help allies with any check.  One place the Bard struggles is combat, and he needs to allocate his magic to help in this area, restricting him from using other types of magic until he has more experience.  He’s a good companion to the Fighter for this reason, or benefits from help from the Ranger or characters with ranged weapons.  Even with that help, he’s going to lose his share of fights and with no armor, he’s fragile like the other Arcane spellcasters and benefits from having a healer around.  A less obvious place the Bard struggles is with recharging cards and his overall magic ability.  Where the Wizard and Sorcerer each roll D12+2 for spells and recharging of spells, the Bard has only D10+1, and it’s a significant difference that not only reduces the Bard’s combat ability but his ability to recharge spells, which in turn makes him even more fragile.  He can help offset this by being his own healer, something the other Arcane casters can’t do.  All in all, I’ve found him to be the weakest, e.g. the most challenging to manage, but his abilities start to unlock as he progresses.

Utility Characters

All the Dexterity-based fighters will add utility to your party beyond what you’ll get after filling the first 3 roles, and some will also utilize dexterity-based and often, ranged weapons.  The characters who fall into this category vary in how they provide utility.  Merisiel the Rogue is the master of overcoming obstacles, uses Dexterity-based weapons and light armor, and stocks up on items.  Harsk the Ranger adds a highly-useful scouting ability in addition to mastery with ranged weapons plus light armor and is all-around useful.  Sajan the Monk is more of a Hammer than either the Rogue or Ranger, in my opinion, and his acrobatics are an asset in getting past many barriers, but he doesn’t utilize weapons or armor at all, and is best when other characters will claim those.  Even Lem the Bard can function as a utility character and all-around spellcaster, especially if you go with a little bit smaller party.

For my money, nobody has more utility than the Rogue.  She’s the only character with a Disable skill and Stealth to go along with Acrobatics and Perception, fairly unique skills of their own.  She’ll utilize dexterity-based weapons and light armor.  Furthermore, leave her alone and she’s a capable combatant when armed, but has a nifty Evade ability to keep her out of trouble when she isn’t ready to fight.

The Ranger has a lot of utility on his own, with two highly useful special abilities.  Every party needs some scouting ability and he brings it nearly every turn.  He also aids others in combat, which is always useful but particularly when you have the Bard or Wizard or Druid, characters who typically could use a helping hand in a fight.  He can be tailored to use his dexterity to get past barriers and traps and can make checks for Fortitude, Perception and Survival.  All in all, this is a lot of utility, plus he specializes in ranged weapons and light armor and has a deceptively high number of blessings to serve as your primary explorer.

The Monk is a tricky character to play, in my experience, and isn’t as universally-useful as the Rogue or Ranger, but is still highly useful and undeniably interesting.  What the Monk can do well is fight, and by that I mean he can be your party’s Hammer while getting past other checks with his blessings, items, Acrobatics and Fortitude.  I write that he’s tricky because you have to balance where to use his many blessings, whether it be to explore, or to fight, or to aid others.  He’s probably less helpful to other characters than some, but more capable of defeating enemies on his own than most.  He’s simple in that he doesn’t use spells, weapons or armor, but tricky in that many choose to eventually give him a dexterity-based weapon.

Example

Now for an example of how all this comes together, let’s look at the League 1670 4-character party that has made it all the way through the Hook Mountain Massacre made up of 4 women:  Seelah the Paladin, Seoni the Sorcerer, Lini the Druid and Merisiel the Rogue.

With only 4 characters, this is good coverage of all the major skills besides Intelligence and Fortitude (and Craft, which no one has) and fills all the key roles:

Strength Fighter – Paladin

Dex Fighter – Rogue

Distance Weapon – Paladin

Light Armor – Rogue

Heavy Armor – Paladin

Arcane Caster – Sorcerer

Divine Caster/Healer – Druid

Explorer – Paladin, Sorcerer

Scout – Rogue, Sorcerer

Hammer – Sorcerer

Locksmith – Rogue

Checkmaker – Druid, Paladin

Explaining some of the less obvious ones:  the Paladin isn’t necessarily a distance fighter but she’s proficient with weapons and therefore can utilize dexterity-based distance weapons and has done so to great effect for our party.  As both are blessed with blessings, both the Paladin and Sorcerer are good at exploring locations.  This isn’t a squad with great scouting, but the Sorcerer and to lesser degree, the Druid, can tailor their spell selections to provide some scouting, and the party utilizes scouting items like the Spyglass where it can, and the Rogue carries most of those.

The real battery of the party is the Sorcerer and Druid, who typically work together to rapidly explore locations.  The Sorcerer uses her blessings to explore rapidly, and smites monsters along the way, all the while burning cards.  The Druid then heals the Sorcerer while hopefully uncovering cards with checks that the Sorcerer can’t handle, while the Druid can do a little bit of everything.  Meanwhile, the Paladin and Rogue almost exclusively explore on their own, and both are fairly well suited to do so.  As a result of the rapid exploration, sometimes we lose because the Sorcerer gets herself killed by exploring too aggressively, or because the Druid can’t pull a Cure in time, or gets a bad roll when she does.  As a trade-off, we almost never run out of time, the element that tends to cause the most losses among other party types.

The Paladin could have been swapped for the Fighter, giving up some blessings (exploration and aid) and overall flexibility in making checks in exchange for better fighting.  However, this party already has the Sorcerer, who serves as both Hammer and provides Diplomacy, making the Fighter’s skills somewhat redundant.  The Fighter and Sorcerer don’t really go together.  We could have used the Barbarian, and might benefit from her movement ability and extra blessing, but then we wouldn’t have anyone to make use of Heavy Armor.  So for this party, the Paladin is probably the best choice, plus her ability as a secondary healer can help fill in for the Druid.

The Sorcerer could have been swapped for the Wizard but as just mentioned, we need her Charisma and Diplomacy, and we need a Hammer.  If we were to go with the Wizard, then we would need to swap the Paladin with the Fighter so that we’d have some Diplomacy and a Hammer.  So to me it’s either its Fighter/Barbarian-Wizard, or Paladin-Sorcerer.  Fighter-Wizard would have had many more spells, likely more scouting and other aid, and more allies.  Paladin-Sorcerer has much better exploration ability, better Diplomacy, and secondary healing, so it’s a trade-off. Both pairs are similar in their overall ability to do combat, as the Fighter and Sorcerer are both Hammers, while neither the Wizard nor Paladin are slouches.

The Druid could have been replaced with the Cleric without much of a big difference.  The Cleric might fight with the Paladin over who gets the best weapons and heavy armor, but there are generally enough weapons to go around.  Good armor is harder to come by and for this reason, a party that has a Cleric might want to opt for the Barbarian as its Strength Fighter, so that the Cleric gets to keep the heavy armor while the Barbarian focuses on the light armor.  Complementary abilities aside, there have been times where we needed healing and the Druid hadn’t yet pulled any, but she’s been invaluable for her ability to overcome almost any check with animal help, plus her breadth of spells helps in other ways.  Also, with the secondary healing of the Paladin, having the always-on healing ability of the Cleric isn’t critical for this party, whereas we could use more spell support from the Druid since the Sorcerer only started with 3 spells of her own. Druid-Sorcerer go well together, the Cleric is better with the Wizard, in my opinion.

In terms of our first 3 party members, they couldn’t really mesh together better than they do.  At this point, any of the utility characters could round out the party but for reasons already explained, I don’t think anyone does it better than the Rogue, who provides a plethora of needed skills along with utilization of dexterity weapons, light armor, and items.  The Ranger’s scouting and all-around ability would also be welcome, but he’s a high-blessing explorer and we don’t really need another one of those.  The Monk, meanwhile, would bring another monster-basher to the group, but any of our characters can handle a Villain when needed, we have a Sorcerer for the monster-heavy locations, and the Monk’s set of skills isn’t as useful as those of the of the Rogue or Ranger, in my opinion.  If the party were made up of a Paladin, Wizard and Cleric/Druid, then the party would be lacking a true Hammer, and then the Monk would probably best choice of Utility character. Finally, we could support the Bard but his Charisma is duplicated by the Sorcerer already.

Just another way of saying it: Paladin-Sorcerer-Druid-Rogue all go really well together, and we’ve conquered a lot together, almost never running out of time. The only thing is keeping an eye on the Sorcerer and not letting her explore too aggressively to get herself killed.

COMBAT STRENGTH

I was looking to understand the combat capabilities of these characters better so I did some analysis on the base set only. The methodology is quite lengthy so I’ll explain it after the post, but I tried to be as scientific about it as I could, setting up rules for which Weapons, Spells, Blessings and Special Abilities each character would use. I set up 3 different strengths of combat for each character: Villain Strength, Henchman Strength and Monster Strength. “+1 Blessing” is when you receive a Blessing from another party member. “Average Strength” is the average of Villain +1 Blessing, Henchman, and Monster Strengths. I don’t think it’s all that relevant but it gave me a way to rank everyone and I think it makes sense as far as who the strongest fighting characters are.


Methdology

You can absolutely pick at it but the main thing is that it treats everyone the same way. If we added a new character to the game, we could measure where he’d grade out.

Instead of just one combat figure, I looked at each character under 3 separate cases.  I use the terms “Monster Strength, Henchman Strength and Villain Strength” to distinguish between the 3, but don’t get too caught up in how they’re named.  The overall methodology is that sometimes you will just use your base attack or a single weapon with nothing else, other times, you’re going to add a blessing or special ability, other times still you’ll go all out to win a fight, and some of that is based upon how available things like weapons and blessings are to each individual character.  The truth is every character can go all out to win a fight and typically succeed, and most of these characters can be spec’d more heavily towards combat if desired, but some are still combat at it than others, like anything else.

Villain Strength: What you would do to win the game.
– All weapon wielders get a 1D8+1 Elite weapon (common enough).
– All weapon wielders discard weapon for an additional 1D6.
– All Arcane spell casters cast a spell for 2D4.
– All Divine spell casters cast a spell for 1D6.
– Everyone uses a Blessing except Wizard.
– Monk uses 3 Blessings total.
– Barbarian uses Special Ability and buries a card for +1D10.
– Druid uses Special Ability and reveals a card for +1D4.
– Paladin uses Special Ability and flips/recharges a card for +1D6.
– Rogue uses Special Ability and discards a card for +2D6.

Henchman Strength: What you might do to defeat a Henchman partway through the location deck, e.g. you have a decent draw and a fight you have to win, but you’re not able to throw every last thing in your deck.
– Weapons: x/4*6 is where x is the number of weapons in your deck.
– Fighter discards weapon for 1D6.
– Spells: x/6*1D6 for Divine spell casters, x/6*2D4 for Arcane spell casters, where x is the number of spells in your deck; Sorcerer is 50/50 on getting spell for 2D4 or discarding for Special Ability for 1D6.
– x/6*Blessing Strength where x is the number of Blessings in your deck.
– Monk plays 2 Blessings total.
– Druid uses Special Ability and reveals a card for +1D4.
– Paladin uses Special Ability and flips/recharges a card for +1D6.
– Rogue uses Special Ability and recharges a card for +1D6.

Monster Strength: What you do early in the game, don’t want to burn cards, or just have a lousy draw and you don’t have all the combat options you want.
– Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Wizard all use 1D6 weapon (Cleric and Paladin may use melee).
– Cleric will use a Blessing 50% of the time, since she has 6.
– Druid uses both Special Abilities, discards card to roll 1D10 and reveals card for +1D4.
– Monk uses one Blessing.
– Paladin uses Special Ability and flips/recharges a card for +1D6.
– Rogue Evades.
– Sorcerer discards to use Special Ability for 1D6.

CONCLUSIONS

– Analysis reveals that the biggest bad ass killer in the game is the Barbarian. The base D12+2, 5 Weapons and 4 Blessings put her in a position to do serious damage especially when burying a card for an extra 1D10. Devastating.

– When armed and alone, the Rogue can keep up with the Barbarian. However, with only 2 Weapons and her Evade ability, the Rogue isn’t a character you can count on to consistently take baddies down so to me it makes sense to factor Evade into her overall average.

– Everyone can kill a Villain. When it comes to winning tough fights consistently, as represented by Henchman strength, the Fighter and Sorcerer are your best bets because they are almost always in a position to fight, and fight well.

– The Monk is your best bet to be ready to overcome an easier type of fight, plus he ramps up pretty well with his blessings.

– The Sorcerer does a lot of damage but pays the highest price. She consistently discards a card where other characters reveal or recharge. She really has no alternatives and is the only character who is pretty much in a position to fight any kind of monster at all times, as long as there are cards in her deck. No other character can say that.

– The Wizard is consistently the weakest offensive character in this analysis due to his complete lack of blessings, but I think he’s probably a tad better than that.  The 2D4 estimate I give him is probably a tad light, but if he goes up, so does the Sorcerer, which as I think about it, is probably the case with these Arcane spellcasters.  Still, on his own, he isn’t much, but he can take full advantage of blessings with his D12.  In my experience, Lem the Bard has been the one who struggles with combat the most, and has the most trouble ramping up to match with the big boys, even with help from others.

 

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