A current trend in the business community is Strength Based Leadership. Basically that the core of success is in managing what each person brings to your team. Roleplaying games aren’t that different. Optimization’s bad rep aside, the game does assume that the metagame balance of a party has a baseline synergy. The iconic group of Pathfinder Roleplaying Game characters is a pretty classic balance of strengths and each of the basic 4 has a typical wheelhouse of a few core abilities they provide. When engineering a party (particularly one that goes OFF the classic classes) a group of players might wish to consider the following roles and values:
Fighter – Melee Damage (Moderate, Sustained)/Mitigation (Moderate, Sustained)/Defender (Moderate, Sustained) – Fighter is the powerhouse of sustainability. They keep going and going. High hit points, high ACs, and high BAB means the fighter is always functional in a COMBAT situation. Skill short, but remember we aren’t focusing on weakness here.
Cleric – Melee Damage (Moderate, Erratic)/Support (High, Expended)/Healing (High, Expended) – Decent BAB and weapon options, with some of the best buffs and an ability to convert spells to healing. Cleric is 2nd in line for the steadies of the genre. An absence in this role is a huge red-flag in your party’s metagame balance but can be fun to skip.
Rogue – Melee & Short Range Damage (High, Erratic)/Skill Use (High, Sustained)/Mitigation (Moderate, Sustained) – Sneak damage is conditional but effectively endless in the right situation, evasion and high Reflex means you aren’t taking as much damage as friends and while you aren’t book smart as a wizard you probably have them beat in versatilty and may be sparing the group damage from traps.
Wizard – Ranged Damage (High Expended)/Support (High, Expended)/Skill Use (High, Erratic) – Invisibility and haste, fireball and magic missile – the mainstay of the 15 minute workday camp, even exhausted she is a wealth of lore and knowledge often steering the party clear of the most dangerous of pitfalls.
Not an exact science by any means but it could be said when looking at a party we then need something like:
2 Moderate Melee Damage
2 Moderate Mitigators
2 High Support
2 High Skill Use
1 High Ranged Damage
1 High Short Range Damage
1 High Healer
1 Moderate (at least) Defender
This shopping list is VERY helpful when choosing non-traditional or heavily archetyped builds and when evaluating what is needed to “fill” a party. Most adventures will account for a similar balance. So if you are tweeking it you might get:
Zen Archer Monk – Ranged Damage (High, Erratic)/Mitigation (Moderate, Sustained)/Defender
Lore Oracle – Healer (High?, Expended)/Skill Use (High, Erratic)/Support (High, Expended)
Undead Bloodline Sorcerer – Short Range Damage (High, Expended)/Support (High, Expended)/Mitigation (Moderate, Expended)
So what does this party approximately need?
2 Moderate Melee Damage/Skill Use
This is an odd requirement but looking at it an option leaps to mind:
Ranger (Two-Weapon) – An increased attack rate joined to a decent BAB and diverse skill set, this character might be the perfect balancer to the mix. At mid-levels you even start getting a bit of druid magic and can help with minor healing if the Oracle is not shaping that way.
This Ranger could just as easily be another monk (flurry) or some sort of two-weapon build barbarian or rogue.
But what about when things go really off basic – 3pp buffet time! When dealing with new or less know classes with rare or unusual abilities it is critical to consider what your class is at its heart if you want it to fit in the balance of your party’s metagame. Looking at Rite Publishing’s Taskshaper? Dicing it up the classes variable skill set and reactive shape-changing power probably make it:
Taskshaper – Melee Damage (Moderate, Sustained)/Skill Use (High, Expended)/Mitigation (High, Expended) – Later levels could drastically alter this (Particularly adding support and ranged damage options) but at it’s low and mid level core it probably holds to this shape.
Continuing our party you might see something like:
Tactician – Support (High, Expended)/Defender (High, Sustained)/Healing (Moderate, Expended) – With possible party wide AC increases and networked psychic powers, the Tactician is THE all-star defender. Should be noted that tacticians are close enough to Skill Use characters to bride the gap on that need as well.
Warlord – Melee Damage (Moderate, Sustained)/Support (Moderate, Sustained)/Healing (Moderate, Sustained) – A sustained source of healing and party wide combat buffs the warlord rivals the bard for over all party offense booster. Our group is looking really great for long game fights and sustained conflict.
We’ve doubled up on healing which makes up for neither Tactician or Warlord being a-list healers. It may even remove the need for a second mitigator. The missing piece:
Short Range Damage/Long Range Damage/Mitigation?
Maybe something like ethermancer from Interjection Games with it’s endless blasts and vampiric self-heals? Or for the melee minded edgewalker with powerful light and dark attacks? Maybe Rogue Genius’ riven mage or shadow assassin? Maybe even an occultist from Radiance House that favors particularly aggressive spirits. Dozens of other options come to mind.
Just remember the classic balance above when considering the party metagame balance. Also remember that you don’t actually have to stick to formula when getting together, an imbalanced party can immediately change the feel of the entire game to something fresh and exciting (it doesn’t hurt to know where you likely shortfalls are going to be though).
And next… what about the freedom of the Fifth Player?