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Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Strategy #11—Building a Party

Thursday, July 13, 2017

This is the eleventh installment of our strategy blog written by game historian Shannon Appelcline. You can read all the installments here.

To date, these strategy articles have concentrated on the gameplay of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game scenarios. However, the metagame of PACG is quite important too—and it's much of what makes the game unique. That metagame begins with the construction of a party, which depends on understanding the types of characters you're using.

Warriors are the most important characters

The two main goals in most scenarios are to defeat henchmen so that you can close locations and to defeat villains so that you can win the game. This means that warriors are the most important type of character in the game. However, don't take this to mean just weapon users; warriors include any character who can generate high results on combat checks. Amiri is a warrior, obviously, but so is Ezren, since he can reliably draw spells and use them to generate high combat values.

Wars not make one great. Warriors make one great.

Whatever their precise class, you should have lots of warriors.

Corollary #1: Be very careful of characters with weak skill/card combos. If a character doesn't have either the Ranged or Melee skill, he's more likely to end up in a bad situation, rolling small, unmodified dice in combat. But you need to be especially careful if these characters also have few weapons or few combat spells. Lini may be the weakest warrior in Rise of the Runelords because she has no Ranged skill, no Melee skill, starts out rolling a d4 in combat, has to pay a card to get that to a reasonable number, has no weapons, and will likely use some of her spell slots for healing or support.

Corollary #2: Be somewhat careful of characters with low fighting stats. It may be less obvious that you should be wary of characters who have a low die associated with their Ranged or Melee skill. Kyra from Rise of the Runelords is the prime example here, since she uses a lowly d6 for her Melee skill. This is fine for fighting most low-level monsters, but it's awful when you're fighting powerful monsters, henchmen, or villains, because in those situations you often want to lay down the blessings… and they'll be worth just 1d6 each!

Corollary #3: Be aware of your weak warriors. Just because warriors are important doesn't mean you should ignore characters who are weak at fighting, because everyone has their own advantages: Kyra is crucial for healing and Lini is perhaps the best character in the game because she's strong at everything other than combat if she has an animal present. The trick is to know who your strong warriors are and who your weak warriors are, and use them appropriately. Send the strong warriors after villains and monster-heavy locations and send the weak warriors after boon-filled locations and use them to temporarily close locations while the villain is being fought.

Healers are the second most important characters

Because cards are a limited resource in PACG, a party without a healer is at a grave disadvantage. Characters will usually only be able to use their cards once, and every one that slips out of a deck due to play or to damage puts that character one inevitable step closer to both death and loss. One healer in a party is practically required, so healers are the second most important character type in PACG.

Healers typically include any character with the Divine skill and spell card slots (and, obviously, some healing spells in those slots). A few characters like Kyra and Seelah can heal without specific spells, but spells are generally better, so those powers should be considered backups.

To err is human; to heal, Divine.

If you have no healers, then you're likely to spend a lot of your time and effort figuring out how to overcome that deficiency, perhaps with one-use healing spells for Merisiel, perhaps with healing objects and healing allies. You'll be able to make a go of it, but it'll hurt your efficiency.

Corollary #1: It's good to have a backup healer. One healer is good, but having at least one and a half is better. It might be another major healer or it might be someone like Lem (or even an advanced Merisiel) who can mix a Cure spell into his deck. The object is to have healing available if your main healer is tied down, if her deck is clogged, or even if she's not available for a play session. But don't go overboard: healing is vitally important, but you'll pay for it with lost efficiency in other areas (like fighting!), so only include the healers you need, which is probably somewhere between one and two.

Corollary #2: Make sure your main healer can recycle cards. You should make sure that your main healer has some way to get expended healing back into her deck. For example, Kyra and Seelah can both do so with their special healing abilities, while Lem can exchange other spells for his healing if it ends up in his discard pile. Another easy method to keep a healer cycling is to make sure she has at least two healing spells: if she fails to recharge the first, she can heal herself with the second.

Disablers are the third most important characters

Banes fall into two categories: monsters and barriers. Thanks to your focus on warriors, you've already taken care of the monsters, but you still need to worry about barriers. If you continually fail to defeat them, they can dramatically slow down your gameplay. If they get stuck on top of a location deck, they can prevent exploration. And if they do lots of damage, they can even kill your characters.

They're a lot more varied than monsters, so how do you defeat them? Make sure that your party has at least some disabler support with a character strong in Dexterity (possibly with the Acrobatics or Disable skills) and/or Wisdom (possibly with the Perception skill).

Merisiel is usually an optimal character to fill the disabler niche. In Rise of the Runelords, she has all three skills, with Acrobatics and Disable at d12+2. Rise of the Runelords Sajan is almost as good, with Acrobatics at d10+2 and Wisdom at d8. In Skull & Shackles, Damiel and Jirelle are good choices; in Wrath of the Righteous, Arueshalae and Ekkie are strong at Dexterity but weak at Wisdom. Mummy's Mask offers quite a few possibilities, of which Damiel and Mavaro are the most well-rounded.

Corollary #1: Be aware of your deficiency. Since they're your third priority, disablers are the character type that you're most likely to neglect in your PACG party. If so, be aware of this deficiency. Save the barrier-heavy locations for last, or be sure you have extra blessings when you visit them. Alternatively, build your decks and take feats to help you better deal with barriers: Masterwork Tools can be a pretty good solution until late in an adventure path.

Sometimes you need skills, and sometimes you need cards. And sometimes you need both.

Corollary #2: Be aware of your adventure. Also be aware that there's quite a bit of variability for barriers between the different adventure paths. Rise of the Runelords has the most traditional traps. Skull & Shackles has quite a few Task barriers that require a wider variety of skills. Wrath of the Righteous has a lot of Temptations that can (perhaps) be easily overcome without skill rolls.

Of course, knowing the types of characters to include in your group is just the first step; there's a lot more to building a good party, as will be discussed in the next two articles.

Shannon Appelcline
Game Historian

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Adventure Card Game Strategy Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I agree overall, even though I think the game is more fun if you have less healing. Playing Grazzle lately, the game becomes a total easy mode, since there is no risk at screwing up anymore (I seriously think the Bog Medic role should be errata'd to be less good at healing, as his healing is way more broken than the pre-errata Alain could ever hope to be - using his healing, I easily shrugged off 2-3 'Rite of Heraldry induced' handwipes per character (!) without breaking a sweat, all in a single scenario).

Regarding the temptations of WotR, I think most of them are supposed to be the analogue of the various chests in RotR, the plunder in SnS and the traders in MM, namely a thematic means to increase the odds of getting better cards. They don't need to be overcome since you can usually just ignore them; they only introduce an optional layer of risk vs reward.
As soon as you remove the nasty barriers like Demonic Horde and Arboreal Blight, you are, in my homebrew experience, much more likely to encounter a beneficial temptation than a normal barrier, at least up to getting your role card.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Sorry for the double post, but I just realized I played Grazzle wrong all along (of course, after the editing time) - please disregard anything about Grazzle I wrote above.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I like this classification of characters for thinking about the game. I think how you explain warriors to include Ezren really highlights the advantages of it.

I wonder if a category of "scouts" or "searchers" shouldn't be considered too, since knowing what is coming and setting up your characters to succeed at their roles can be quite powerful. But maybe they are fourth most important.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I think this blog lacks tags.


Lini bad at fighting... uh, what? You _can_ fix it by having someone (Harsk) with a lot of ranged weapons pass one off to her. If nothing else, she can also discard a card to shapeshift. That's not even talking about the fact that the d4 +x from the animal can be used on a combat check.

If you don't have that support, she becomes a bit weaker, but not Siwar/S&S Lem/Olenjack levels of weak.

Anyways, my philosophy is this: everyone has to be able to fight monsters to a certain degree, because explores are precious and you don't get to choose when to fight. If you are too inefficient at fighting, then you are inefficient at exploring (because you're often too afraid to take your normal explore, and even if you did you may need to throw 3-4 cards at a normal fight). If you're inefficient at exploring, you'd better have something else big to bring to the table. Healers buy explores, directly through returning cards that discard to explore and indirectly by returning cards that enhance checks, allowing people to be less conservative. This is why RotR Kyra for example can get away with a low Strength die.

The definition of Disabler outlined in this article only works for Rise of the Runelords. Skulls and Shackles have a significant number of locations and barriers that force you to use Fortitude. In fact, I think the definition of Disabler here should be expanded to encompass going to "unsafe" locations (eg Mountain Peak because it forces you to bury a card every turn if you don't have a Wisdom-focused character, or some of the Fortitude check locations in S&S that do the same thing.)

I do have a classification system for my characters, but it's kind of different. Like hawkmoon said, scouting or other types of information gathering allow you skip over encounters that you would otherwise throw a lot of resources on.

I think this is a good basis for an article. I actually agree with most of it. The Lini thing annoys me.


Yep, Lini can fight. I soloed Rise with her. She can overcome any threat and recover from any loss of cards.

I personally don't find disablers are needed at all. Not with MW Tools, blessings, and spells like Find Traps. Like you said it depends on the adventure path, maybe you've had more experience with S&S and mine has been with Runelords and Wrath.

I enjoy these articles, makes me want to play again.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Nice blog. Would like "as usual" to add that things are different with a small or large party.
With 2 characters, you need to "survive" 15 turns each. Ang to get rid of henchmen. Thus warriors and healers indeed. With 6 characters, it's only 5 turns each. Surviving is a different story and "who will encounter what" starts to be key. Thus the addition of "scouts" or "I can help and act out of turn" or "jack of all trades". Mavaro, Alahazra, Ahmotep, Harsk and others are killers in large groups.
So indeed seat 1 is warrior, seat 2 is healer, but from seat 4 to seat 6 not sure that dosabler would be my first choice. You need a second warrior around seat 4 or 5 too.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Hawkmoon269 wrote:
I think this blog lacks tags.

I knew it: Hawk is an automatic fifth generation moon-hosted big data deep learning database.


Re Lini fighting discussion, I agree with the article, yes she can fight, but she's still worse at it than any other character. Divine spells are mostly weaker than arcane at combat, and she has no ability to help ensure she has one available. Otherwise, yeah she can use a weapon, if you give her one and she discards a card for a better dice. Or later she can even take the proficiency and a slot. But every character has some ability to fight, the point is Lini is the one who has to jump through the most hoops just to even catch up.

As far as the article generally goes, I think a more important third category is a support character. Especially in a larger party. Someone who can add to other people's checks and shore up the party's weaknesses.

I don't actually find having a barrier specialist is important for its own sake at all. Firstly barriers use all the different skills and nobody covers them all, and at the same time even the warriors will cover a few of them. Secondly you have only limited control over who encounters them. I think the a disabler is a good choice only so far as it results in balanced skills (as I'm about to mention).

The two other things I always pay attention to when building a party:
1. Balancing skills so there's always someone who can close each location.
2. Balancing the need for different types of cards, so that everything we find is useful to someone and no-one's missing out on upgrades because they have to fight with another player for them.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Irgy wrote:

... other things I always pay attention to when building a party:

1. Balancing skills so there's always someone who can close each location.

^This.

We always consider our ability to close, especially when picking the last 1-2 characters in a party.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber, Card Game Subscriber
elcoderdude wrote:
Irgy wrote:

... other things I always pay attention to when building a party:

1. Balancing skills so there's always someone who can close each location.

^This.

We always consider our ability to close, especially when picking the last 1-2 characters in a party.

Oh yeah. We ended up with a rough go early in MM because we had no one with diplomacy or a charisma above d6.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

Unfortunately, you can't really change your party in the middle of an adventure path if your composition sucks. So...


Cyrad wrote:
Unfortunately, you can't really change your party in the middle of an adventure path if your composition sucks. So...

Well, you *can* under the 'it's your game, play it your way' clause. If something's getting in the way of your fun, then change it.

Our group mostly worries about having a d10 or better in every stat, as well as at least one arcane caster and one divine caster when you look at the whole group. We usually have 4 players, so it's not hard, but some combinations are rarer than others (STR+INT springs to mind).

This is a big part of why we generally love the die-swap items (Topaz of Strength, etc), because it really boosts the versatility of who can close what.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Ummm... what's Seelah's built in healing?


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
jones314 wrote:
Ummm... what's Seelah's built in healing?

Seelah from the Paladin Class Deck has a core healing power (very weak compared to some of the clerics, but definitely helpful).

Seelah from Wrath of the Righteous has the Inheritor's Blade role, which provides a minor healing power (the bottom power about using the Blessing of Iomedae).


Brother Tyler wrote:
jones314 wrote:
Ummm... what's Seelah's built in healing?

Seelah from the Paladin Class Deck has a core healing power (very weak compared to some of the clerics, but definitely helpful).

Seelah from Wrath of the Righteous has the Inheritor's Blade role, which provides a minor healing power (the bottom power about using the Blessing of Iomedae).

Also, apropos of the blog focus on RotR: RotR Seelah's Hospitaler role has the feat:

Hospitaler wrote:
During your turn, you may bury a Divine card and choose a character at your location to shuffle 1d4+1 random cards from his discard pile into his deck.

Paizo Employee Designer

Irgy wrote:
I don't actually find having a barrier specialist is important for its own sake at all. Firstly barriers use all the different skills and nobody covers them all, and at the same time even the warriors will cover a few of them. Secondly you have only limited control over who encounters them. I think the a disabler is a good choice only so far as it results in balanced skills (as I'm about to mention).

I tend to agree on this for most characters, and with zeroth_hour as well about "Disabler" meaning something different everywhere but Runelords. However, there are a few characters, not listed in the blog, that (eventually) get a power like "For your check against a barrier, roll an X check instead" and characters like Zetha who can always roll Stealth on everything, and those few who can do that are able to serve an explicit anti-barrier purpose in terms of leaping into barrier-heavy locations. Otherwise, yeah, it's all about diversity and good special powers. As a good example of your point: Our current three-person team is getting along well with Feiya (MVP) to hex everything and then draw back a full hand anyway with Tetisura the Sphinx, Zetha (to make all the checks Stealth), and Cogsnap (because Twitch Tonic spam means finishing a location per turn) even though we don't have a consistent warrior or a healer.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

I firmly disagree that Warriors are the most important. I have played many games with no dedicated warriors, and very few with no healers. The ones with no healers were more likely to be failures (including character deaths) than the ones with no warriors.


James McKendrew wrote:
I firmly disagree that Warriors are the most important. I have played many games with no dedicated warriors, and very few with no healers. The ones with no healers were more likely to be failures (including character deaths) than the ones with no warriors.

If you don't have any warriors, though, your healers won't be able to do anything else because they're likely to get their butts handed to them constantly.

Healers are vital support characters, but they need someone to support to be useful. You won't be able to heal faster than you're taking damage.

If you play Overwatch, imagine a team with six Mercies in it.


Hawkmoon269 wrote:

I like this classification of characters for thinking about the game. I think how you explain warriors to include Ezren really highlights the advantages of it.

I wonder if a category of "scouts" or "searchers" shouldn't be considered too, since knowing what is coming and setting up your characters to succeed at their roles can be quite powerful. But maybe they are fourth most important.

I tend to imagine a fourth category simply as 'support' (maybe I play too much Overwatch). Scouts wind up in that group and they can be crazy useful. I played Alahazra in S&S once and it almost felt like cheating. I rarely had cards in hand on my turn, so I didn't often explore, but every turn seemed to be optimal, especially once I got the feat that let me encounter boons. "Anybody want this? No? I'll encounter it."


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Doppelschwert wrote:
I agree overall, even though I think the game is more fun if you have less healing. Playing Grazzle lately, the game becomes a total easy mode, since there is no risk at screwing up anymore (I seriously think the Bog Medic role should be errata'd to be less good at healing, as his healing is way more broken than the pre-errata Alain could ever hope to be - using his healing, I easily shrugged off 2-3 'Rite of Heraldry induced' handwipes per character (!) without breaking a sweat, all in a single scenario).

Grazzle's healing power - especially if you go Bog Medic - is IMO the most powerful character ability in the game. More than any other character's power it changes the way the game gets played because it allows everyone to burn through their decks with little fear of death.


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Yep Grazzle is very powerfull. He even avoids the trigger effects from the Mummys mask... only character that can scout without any fear and heals like nobody else.
Yep, errata would make him more fun...

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Zhayne wrote:
If you don't have any warriors, though, your healers won't be able to do anything else because they're likely to get their butts handed to them constantly.

I don't know what to say. Our parties succeed more often than parties with warriors and inadequate healing. We mostly play casters. There's an occasional Monk, and every so rarely a Fighter, but we clean up without dedicated warriors.


Well, like the article says, 'warrior' doesn't necessarily mean 'weapon-user'. Casters with high combat roll potential are also warriors. And some characters, like CD Kyra, can do a pretty good job at both healing and warrior-ing.


LINI. I had a feeling that claiming Lini was a weak fighter would cause controversy, because she's so good out-of-combat and thus well-loved. But Irgy did a great job of detailing the thinking behind this: yes, she can become OK, but she has to jump through a lot of hoops, from getting weapon hand-offs to burning cards.

ALTERNATES. I agree that Support and Scout are great alternate ideas for an important third class.

OTHERS. There was some mention of other criteria for selecting party members, such as covering all the closing skills, and I simply say: watch for the next two articles.

Silver Crusade

Zhayne wrote:
Hawkmoon269 wrote:

I like this classification of characters for thinking about the game. I think how you explain warriors to include Ezren really highlights the advantages of it.

I wonder if a category of "scouts" or "searchers" shouldn't be considered too, since knowing what is coming and setting up your characters to succeed at their roles can be quite powerful. But maybe they are fourth most important.

I tend to imagine a fourth category simply as 'support' (maybe I play too much Overwatch). Scouts wind up in that group and they can be crazy useful. I played Alahazra in S&S once and it almost felt like cheating. I rarely had cards in hand on my turn, so I didn't often explore, but every turn seemed to be optimal, especially once I got the feat that let me encounter boons. "Anybody want this? No? I'll encounter it."

I'm also trying to think where I put S&S Alahazra and her ilk in this hierarchy. Because she HAS a warrior role---Tempest---but almost no one takes that role because Stargazer is just too good. I think it goes back to another one of these posts about exploring being the most valuable thing---she can go through a whole ton of cards.

The thing is, while Alahazra is one of the most powerful support characters in the game, the game is perfectly playable without her. On the other hand, you can't play a game without someone who is good at handling monsters.

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