In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game party mechanics can be the difference between living and dying but nearly as important are the interactions between party members. No player character relationship affects play more than the presence (or absence) of a party leader. The advantages and pitfalls of party leadership are worth thinking about before crowning a first among equals…
Types of Party Leadership
When choosing a leader for your PC’s party deciding not only who is leader but what type of leadership they possess is key to empowering an effective leader. Leadership can manifest in a lot of ways and with a lot of levels of control. Consider the following:
- “She’s Our Girl!”/Elected Leader (Power Level: Imbued) – This leader is the group selected leader. Democratically empowered, they have been chosen deliberately by the group for perceived moral, political or some other form of strength. This leader can generally make calls for the party or engage a call for opinions as they see fit. Poor performance will likely get her ousted, while good calls will probably keep her in charge for the whole campaign.
- “The Face”/Leader in Social Situations (Power Level: Imbued/Conditional) – The Face is the leader but general only during or for social situations. They can be afforded enormous power over the groups choices but are often expected to work with the overall goals of the party in mind. The second the steel slips the scabbards they are probably just one of the team.
- “The Specialist”/Leader for Situation X (Power Level: Absolute in their Situation) – The Specialist party leader is a temporary authority that assumes command in response to specific party needs or situations. The Face is on some sub-levels a version of this role but the Specialist tends to only rise during a specific event. Wizards during a supernatural episode or Fighters once combat starts. Some parties use this type of leadership without even being aware of it.
- “Ask Him”/Leader by Default (Power Level: Absolute*) – This person is the only word in making calls when it comes to party activities but mostly because no one else wants or cares to. This can be due to party subdual, apathy or refusal to command, or self-doubt on the part of other party members. This person has absolute power but tends to only keep it as long as they don’t push party members too far and engage their own interests.
- “No one speaks for us, but me.”/Dominant Persona/Master (Power Level: Absolute) – This leader is rarer in PC groups because it is a level of Absolute leader that is often more fitting for a villain. This leader has usually seized control and is tyrannical or oppressive in their dominance. It is possible to see a “benevolent dictator” in this role but exceedingly rare.
- NPC/Absent Leader – Some adventures or GMs utilize indirect leadership as a means to maintain party autonomy while presenting a command structure that facilitates story more than play. Parties can find themselves working coherently for (or in spite of) such a leader without having one PC “put above” the party.
- None/Oligarchy – These parties are relatively common. Loose fellowships that band togother for purposes and indeterminate durations. They can be less stable and tend to not generate much of the advantage (see below) of a specific leader. Players (and their characters) tend to have few issues in these parties unless they find themselves in the minority.
Advantages of Leadership
With so many choices of the type of leader a party can have, and so many groups functioning without one we might ask why bother with a leader at all. Weighed against individual agency it takes some significant value to win people over. Consider the following:
- Faster Game Play – While a majority “metagame” decision, a single leader means choices can become far more rapid and decisive. This cuts down on time spent debating and negotiating to help speed the story along and get into more action.
- Resource Allocation – The chances of resources going to the best fit character are far greater with a leader making the call, ASSUMING that leader acts with the good of the entire party in mind. A bad or imbalanced leader may engage in favoritism and worse and damage the party in an overall sense.
- Social Interaction – It is far easier for a group to recognized, interacted with and REWARDED if there is a known contact person in charge of it. The decision to have a party leader can make downtime and social scenes much easier for the entire group.
- Mediator – Party disputes or disagreements have a settling authority. This can keep the peace and resolve tensions between members before they escalate and endanger the group.
- Accountability – The value of having someone to own mistakes, learn lessons and if necessary take the blame for party actions is crucial to helping the party grow as a whole. This may be the least “fun” part of leadership but still presents enormous possible value to the party at large.
Whatever reason a group does or doesn’t choose a party leader, the decision can and will impact game play. Having a clear understanding of possible advantageous you might loose or gain in the choice helps make it the right one for your party.