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Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Strategy #13—Building a Party: Other Considerations

Thursday, September 7, 2017

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

Great Pathfinder Adventure Card Game parties will have characters in different roles and will contain sets of powers that work well together. However, there are a few other characteristics you should consider when assembling a party.

Vary your niches

Make sure you have characters who fill a variety of niches. Choose some magic-users and some fighters; some characters who help with non-combat targets and some who support fighting; some who are great when grouped together and some who are great alone. You're going to face a variety of challenges, so make sure you have a variety of abilities to meet them.

Corollary #1: Especially vary complementary characters. If you've chosen two characters who will often work together, try to make them as different from one another as you can.

Vary characters by primary skills

There are six dice-based skills in PACG: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Among your party, try to have good dice in each of these primary skills. If each skill is supported by at least one character with a d8, that's great; if your whole party tops out at a d4 or a d6 on something, consider how to fix that.

Vary characters by secondary skills

Here's a breakdown of the secondary skills and the number of characters in Rise of the Runelords who have each: Acrobatics [2], Arcane [3], Craft [0], Diplomacy [3], Disable [1], Divine [4], Fortitude [3], Knowledge [3], Melee [4], Perception [2], Ranged [1], Stealth [1], Survival [3]. (You could make a similar list for any of the other adventure paths.)

Ideally, you'll want each of these skills covered, meaning you can send someone to defeat each card and close each location. Absent that, choose characters that offer a wide spread of skills; work particularly hard not to add any characters to your party whose skills are totally redundant. Also, look carefully at the skills that are most common among the characters published with the adventure path you're playing, because they're probably the most important. The fact that none of the Runelords characters have Craft lets you know that you can get by without it. Similarly, missing Acrobatics or Stealth generally won't be a big deal in Rise of the Runelords, but you should think more carefully before voiding Diplomacy or Survival.

Corollary #1: Choose characters that have a lot of skills, especially if you have fewer players. The fewer characters you have, the harder it is to cover all the skills. So for low player-count games, consider characters who have three or four secondary skills over those who have just two.

Corollary #2: Manage gaps with cards. If you have gaps in your skill coverage, put cards that help with those skills into your deck. Just as a Masterwork Tools can cover a missing Disabler, a Burglar can help with both Disable and Stealth. (Remember which characters have those boons so you can send people where they need to go!)

Sometimes you just need friends in low places.

Vary characters by cards

There is nothing sadder in PACG than acquiring a great card and having to throw it out at the end of the scenario because nobody has room in their deck for it. This is also a pragmatic issue: You're only going to get so many great cards each game, so the more of them you can keep, the better your party becomes. So for each type of boon, you want at least one character whose deck list is strong in that type.

Corollary #1: Consider subtypes too. Covering a range of card subtypes with your characters can be even more important. In particular, if you can have arcane and divine spell users, and melee and ranged weapon users, and characters proficient with both light armor and heavy armor, then you're more likely to be able to use everything you acquire. Certain characters can even be even more specialized: If you have the sword-wielding Kyra from the Cleric Class Deck, you may want someone who can use the great melee weapons that aren't swords; if you have Lirianne, you may want someone to take the ranged weapons that aren't firearms. (Of course that way lies absurdity; there will always be some cards you can't use, but minimize them!)

Don't ask what happens if they find a card that has the Firearm trait and the Sword trait...

Corollary #2: Consider blessings too. Most characters tend to prefer specific blessings, either to complement certain skills or to overcome deficiencies in certain skills, or because their role cards provide benefits for using them. Try and spread these out too, so that you can happily use the maximum number of blessing types.

Vary characters after the fact

Sometimes, you can vary characters as they develop over time. Amiri, Kyra, and Valeros might initially all pick from the same set of weapons, but you might be able to specialize each during play, due either to power feats or to combos built by acquiring other boons.

Take what you want

You should never follow any of this strategy advice if it's impacting your fun, and that's especially true when you're picking characters. Yes, it's great to have characters that work well together, that can answer all of the game's challenges, and that make optimal use of your cards. But don't let it stop you from taking the character that you'll enjoy playing the most.

Don't be afraid to abandon characters

So you've carefully built your party... and you find out it doesn't really work. Two character powers clash (like Merisiel and Valeros) or two characters are fighting too much for cards (like Ezren and Seoni). Don't be afraid to dump one of the characters that's clashing and replace them, particularly if it's still early in the adventure path! The end result will probably be better play.

Choosing your party is just the first part of the metagame; how you improve those characters over play is even more important (and is the topic of the next article).

Shannon Appelcline
Game Historian

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Adventure Card Game Strategy Pathfinder Adventure Card Game
Lone Shark Games

Shannon wrote:
Don't ask what happens if they find a card that has the Firearm trait and the Sword trait...

<looks up "Sword Pistol" on Google>


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Great blog as usual. However if I may...

Shannon Appelcline wrote:
Don't be afraid to abandon characters...

I guess it works if a single player is behind multiple characters.

In our little world it NEVER happens.
Good luck Shannon trying to tell any of us to "dump" his alter ego. :-)

Nice advices to optimize success in the game.
Now once you've played a while and become a veteran and feels like the first base sets are too easy, something you can do it pretty much the opposite of your blog. I mean tell everyone in your party to select a preferred character WITHOUT asking the others what they plan to do.
And then try to live on the full adventure.
Something fun happens then : like, nobody has arcane... well then any arcane spell boon is free for all rather than automatically going to the wizard. And fighters start to cast spells when required.
I mean, optimization always leads to some king of automatic playing. De-optimize and we are back into creativity. :-)


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

This is an interesting article; counting the secondary skills on the characters from the base set is a really great idea.
I just did that for all base sets and discovered some interesting things; in particular, Divine always belongs to the top 3 and is shared by at least 4 characters in each set.
What is really curious is the absence of Survival in SnS - it has the least occurence of any base set (2 for SnS and MM, 3 for RotR and WotR) but is heavily featured in the ship combat mechanic.


Blog Post wrote:


You should never follow any of this strategy advice if it's impacting your fun, and that's especially true when you're picking characters. Yes, it's great to have characters that work well together, that can answer all of the game's challenges, and that make optimal use of your cards. But don't let it stop you from taking the character that you'll enjoy playing the most.

I have a friend who LOVES to play Tup. I've never seen him enjoy himself more while playing than when he makes me discard 4 cards after "helping" me with a check.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Frencois wrote:

Great blog as usual. However if I may...

Shannon Appelcline wrote:
Don't be afraid to abandon characters...

I guess it works if a single player is behind multiple characters.

In our little world it NEVER happens.

When we started playing Mummy's Mask, people picked the characters they thought seemed cool or were the class that they usually play. We did the first few scenarios and got really stuck. We swapped out some characters and tried again. The new combination worked.


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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Axoq wrote:
We swapped out some characters and tried again. The new combination worked.

Woow you have a bunch of smart nice clever players.

I have to deal with a bunch of grumpy hard core veteran nasty crazy rollplayers (I know, I'm part of the bunch), so have pity.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 16

Abandon characters? But by the rules, you have to grind the characters to level them up!

Lone Shark Games

Cyrad wrote:
Abandon characters? But by the rules, you have to grind the characters to level them up!

I think you've confused this with the Pokémon GO forum.


Re "Manage gaps with cards" I agree with the idea, but I disagree with the examples. I find it generally unhelpful to have cards which add dice to skills the character doesn't already have. Usually (even if you're surprised by something) you have a choice of skills, and making the worst option better is rarely helpful.

What's good for filling gaps is auto-succeed abilities. Those take the worst option and turn it into something actually better than the best other option.

Which is why Burglar and Masterwork Tools are still good cards, but for their other abilities - adding dice to any barrier (so on a disable barrier you can still use your d6 dex + d10, instead of d4 + d10), and auto-succeeding at barriers (up to a limit).


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Cyrad wrote:
Abandon characters? But by the rules, you have to grind the characters to level them up!

Obviously an early abandonment, before the end of the preliminary arc, can work under any circumstances.

I didn't want to go beyond that in a semi-official strategy posting, but personally, we don't require characters to play missing scenarios. Over in the roleplaying world, one of the concepts that really opened my eyes in the early '90s grew out of the RuneQuest community: it was the idea of MGF. Maximum Game Fun.

Given that Fun is the purpose of entertainment, you do what you can to maximize it, at least in a way that doesn't defeat the competitive core of the game. So adapting that to PACG, we just let anyone accrue any checkboxes that their character had missed. Everyone else was still happy because they had better cards thanks to their play, and the previously absentee players were happy because they had the otherwise unobtainable thing and stayed at par with the rest of the group.

Obviously, personal house rule: YGWV (to use another term that grew out of that same gaming community).


Cyrad wrote:
Abandon characters? But by the rules, you have to grind the characters to level them up!

Our group thought it was a bad rule, so we just houseruled it that you get all the feats that everybody else did when you make a new character, especially when you're in a 'my character isn't working out, I need to swap' situation. No point penalizing someone for that.

The more I think about it, the more it amuses me that in a weird way, the PACG plays like Overwatch. You need a varied group, synergies are awesome, and you shouldn't be afraid to swap out if what you have isn't working.


Just to play devil's advocate, some upsides of playing through the earlier scenarios:
* You get used to the new character, and can make more informed choices about what feats (and card) to take.
* You get a chance to gather suitable cards.

That said it's a lot of effort. I've played a new character solo through all of B and 1 before but that's probably about my limit. And even then, it was mostly just something I wanted to do for its own sake anyway.


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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Irgy wrote:

Some upsides of playing through the earlier scenarios:...

* You get a chance to gather suitable cards.

Actually M. Devil ;-), one of the thing we like in the way we handle catching-up for dead characters (see above) is that, since they just rejoin the game and don't get to replay previous stuff, indeed they will never have as many opportunities to gather suitable cards (e. g. loots) as those who do not die. We are VERY happy with that.

We wanted a house rule that at the same time:

- Allows to keep playing together (i. e., no need to have the dead guy replay alone some stuff or force the others to replay already won scenarios which doesn't really make sense in roleplay story - the villain is already dead)

- Does not kill your fun (i. e., give you a chance to get all your feats back so you can play those fancy powers)

- But still makes you try to avoid death by making sure there is some kind of "acceptable but yet real" permanent pain (i. e., you won't get again all those nice opportunities to get boons and loots and to optimize your deck that your friends that didn't die had - and you may even be stuck with basic cards for a while)

After at least 3 years of playing that way, we really love it. Although I must admit, because it works as "make sure you don't die" rule, we had very little deaths (but in each case the catching-up was fun to play both for the one who died and for the rest of the party).
We had many more cases when a player couldn't show up for a game. And (as explained above) the house rule works very well for that. So for easiness and consistency, I doubt we'll review our "death" rule.

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