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On building a balanced group: working out just what works and why you may have been doing it all along.


Advice

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For a while now there has been a debate on traditional roles and tasks that makes up a typical adventuring group. This has produced a lot of interesting talk and debate on the subject but nothing I’ve felt was a particularly satisfactory way of producing a well optimized party.

Often these roles or at least these philosophies lead to common optimization traps through misleading language.

However I have found that nearly all of these talks attempt to encompass too narrow focuses without truly considering in what it is the group s really trying to do. Consider for a moment what your ultimate goal in combat is;

”TO OVER COME THE ENCOUNTER AS EFFICIENTLY AS POSSIBLE”

Taking this into this consideration we have to take a look at certain golden truths about Pathfinder combat before we can begin to parse out roles in order to consider what a practically optimized group would look like. To begin:

Spamming is usually the least consistent form of defeating encounters

When we speak of this truth we are referring to characters that are essentially one trick ponies such as dedicated two handed fighters, mounted combat characters, dedicated archers, generally characters that are built only to operate in a specific set of circumstances (i.e. adjacent to an opponent and full attacking) must have a means of setting up that circumstance consistently (like pounce for barbarians) or find a different method of accomplishing that goal (switch hitting rangers, gunslingers who carry melee weapons).

The same can be said for support roles as well. A dedicated healer does nothing to quickly end an encounter but may do more to prolong it and even drain further resources as others will be forced to use their own resources to accomplish aforementioned goal. Likewise other spellcaster’s who rely on using a single highly specialized spell will find themselves completely negated in a number of circumstances where that spell will ultimately prove useless or simply not as optimal as a different spell choice.

What this teaches us is that an effective party member must be able and willing to accomplish their assigned task in many different ways or else be able to take on a different task altogether when a situation presents itself to make that method unfeasible.

Initiative is (almost) everything

It is no secret for anyone to discover that having a high initiative is absolutely imperative. Going first allows a group to take advantage of an opponents flatfooted status to get into position as well as set the pace for the battle and immediately be on the offensive or in some cases have defensive abilities up for the inevitable reprisal. Of course having extremely high initiative is not as important as positioning nor is it as important as the appropriate use of it. A dedicated damage dealer who charges before the party wizard lays down battlefield control is actually only acting to make things more difficult for himself as he will be attacking an opponent who is not affected by that battlefield control.

Therefore high initiative is important when speaking as a group. The entire group wants high initiative to deal with the enemy but not when dealing with each other. What a group wants when dealing with one another is an established order of tasks in order to ensure that everyone is doing their job at the utmost best.

Positioning is everything

This is more or less a silent truth but the fact of the matter is nothing you do matters unless you are in an appropriate position to do your assigned task. A pole arm wielding trip specialist can’t do his work forty feet from the enemy, a two weapon paladin cannot swing at a flying opponent, and archers cannot operate effectively in a dense forest. Ultimately more than initiative being in the right place at the right time is more important to the overall success of the group.

Part of individual optimization is about eliminating circumstances or creating new circumstances where your position matters very little or where you can reach the appropriate position faster. As an example the fly spell is not so important purely for numbers but for the positioning opportunities it provides. Wizards can more easily evade ground bound opponents while simultaneously making use of it to provide their group with an expanded range of positions to take from which they can accomplish their assigned tasks. It is no wonder then that knowing this truth that we can understand the importance of spells such as Grease, Create Pit, and Entangle that not only provide serious debuffs to an enemy but also compromise the enemies positioning (i.e. controlling the battlefield) and allow the group to take on superior positions of their own (like flanking, attacking from the high ground, etc.)

Pathfinder is a lot about resource management

Nearly every class has a resource that can be expended to fight at its best. Even rogues and fighters, the most resource efficient classes, can gain one or two abilities that are limited use and even when they do not they still count their total HP as a resource that can be expended. Simply put the harder fights tend to be the more resources a group will expend to overcome those encounters. Pathfinder is written under the expectation that a group will expend about 20% of its resources for an at CR encounter.

The goal of the balanced and optimal group then is to meet or increase the efficiency of its resource use to this standard. Never expending more than what is required and making the best use of its abundant resources or making use of resource efficient actions in order to defeat an encounter.

To this end proactive abilities that reduce the difficulty of an encounter are typically the most resource efficient. As just two examples consider the difference between Slow and Cure Serious Wounds. Cure serious wounds is a reactive spell that ultimately negates at most two attacks for its level. Slow on the other hand can negate many many attacks over a number of rounds as staggered opponents will be foiled from getting into position and making full attacks time and time again.

Pathfinder combat favors offense over defense

Older players are well aware that combat in pathfinder can be quick and brutal depending on the difficulty of the encounter and the dice of the characters involved. Consider for a moment that every opponent everywhere has at least a 5% chance to hit you if they make an attack (barring miss chances). Consider further that as levels progress a character will take more and more of these chances as full attacks start to include iterative attacks and often mix in with natural attacks. Then consider that damage can easily outclass all but the strongest healing methods while still punching through damage reduction and you start to get a picture of why setting the pace of a battle suddenly becomes more important than having high passive defenses. Optimized parties want to be on the offensive as soon as possible and as hard as possible in order to ensure that battles end quickly before the tide can be turned upon them. An opponent on the defensive is at a terrible disadvantage until which time they can stem an opponents offense and be able to respond with an offense of their own.

Thus it becomes imperative to a group to be able to simultaneously place an opponent on the defensive, stifle any counter offensive, and then be able to launch its own offensive in order to ensure the accomplishment of the above goal. While sounding like a tall order it’s really something groups do all the time. A group that wins initiative and has great position immediately puts an opponent on the defensive. A group that lays down battlefield control or debuffs is usually stifling counter offensives as well. Lastly a groups damage dealers are launching the offensive. So in a sense most groups are understanding this truth already. Groups that rely heavily on reactive strategies and defensive tactics often find themselves in long drawn out wars of attrition that are highly inefficient and do little more than weaken a group’s chances of survival in a game where there is no point or period where a group might be called 100% safe.

Bearing these truths in mind we can now take a look at what a group specifically needs in order to be consistently successful at combat in pathfinder. A group needs to be able to consistently set an enemy up and dictate the pace of a battle while laying out enough relevant damage to end the fight quickly without draining too much of a group’s available resources. With this in mind some groups naturally gravitate towards a small number of tasks or, if you like, “roles” in which they work to turn an encounter into victory.

Typically these groups individual members specialize in one or two of these tasks selecting one of several different methods to accomplish what they want with their chosen race/class combination.

To illustrate how this works we have ourselves a useful metaphor in the Hammer, Anvil and Arm.

The hammer represents characters built to defeat the encounter by dealing damage or otherwise permanently removing an enemy as a threat. Hammers pound the encounter into something resembling victory.

The anvil represents characters built and specialized in holding the enemy down. That is reducing their capacity to fight against the hammers or otherwise defeat you. This is typically done through combat maneuvers, battlefield control spells, debuffs, or other similar methods to reduce an enemies capacity to do the same to the group.
The Arm represents the support center of the group. He allows the hammer to hit harder, the anvil to hold the enemy better and keeps them working before the enemy can break either. Through buffs, heals, or other forms of support an arm allows the rest of the group to perform better than normal and overcome encounters very quickly without an extra drain on resources.

Together this group acts to beat and pound the encounter into something resembling victory or otherwise overcoming the encounter.
Now what I would like to do is break down this metaphor further and explain what each role, the anvil, the arm, and the hammer, would look like in a well balanced party and talk about what is important for them to have in order to perform their proposed function.

Anvil

Anvils work to aggressively control the enemy and drop the overall difficulty of a fight in order to make the hammer and arm’s job easier.
An effective dedicated anvil needs to be able to do the following consistently:

1. The anvil needs to be able to effectively reduce or limit one or more aspects of an enemy encounter such as:

Mobility: The ability for an enemy to effectively move in an encounter and position themselves to deal damage.

Action Economy: The ability for an enemy to take actions such as a full attack, a move, etc. etc.

Numbers: Raw numbers such as attack bonuses, damage, saves, skills, etc.

2. An anvil needs to go first in the initiative in order to set the pace of an encounter allowing the arms and hammers of the group to make wiser decisions about the expenditure of resources in the act of beating the encounter.

3. An anvil needs to be able to effectively perform his task without interfering with the arm’s and hammer’s jobs.

To elaborate anvil’s need to be able to debuff their foes quickly, before the hammers wade in and before the arm’s work to support and especially before the enemy has had a chance to react. This ensures that your hammers have an easier time dealing damage and signals to your arms what form of support they will need to provide.

Spellcasting classes tend to be the best anvils purely because of the variety of the control they have at their disposal and the instantaneous effects they have on the battlefield. Pole arm wielding battlefield controllers, or other combat maneuver based classes can have similar roles and can more easily fall back onto a hammer role once the encounter is sufficiently handled to the point where the hammers can mop up.

Hammer

The hammer’s job is perhaps the most intuitive and easy for most players to pull off. Their job is to essentially finish the encounter. After the anvil has set the encounter and the arm has boosted the hammer (or occasionally the anvil) it’s the hammer’s job to render the encounter into XP and treasure to be shared by all.

A hammer needs to be able to do the following consistently:

1. Deal at least 1/3 to 2/3 of an encounter’s hp without the need of special circumstances such as critical hits in one round.

2. Deal at least 2/3 to 4/5 of an encounter with the expenditure of personal resources or through special circumstances (flanking, critical hits etc.) in one round.

3. Can deal at least two kinds of damage in order to bypass defenses (Damage reduction, resistances, certain AC modifiers).

4. Is mobile enough with sufficient action economy in order to accomplish the above in one round or less.

Full base attack bonus classes do very well going towards being hammers. They tend towards efficient action economies and can easily trade hit bonuses and in some cases defense in order to do the maximum amount of damage with the slightest expenditure of resources.

Arm

The arm works to bring the anvil and the hammer together. It helps make both characters more efficient in whatever way possible.
Therefore an arm needs to be able to consistently do the following:

1. Boost one of the following:
a. Action Economy: Granting characters extra actions typically by expending one of your own.
b. Mobility: Granting characters the ability to achieve superior positioning.
c. Numbers: Boosting a characters raw numbers such as Attack, Damage, AC, saving throws etc.

2. Be able to react quickly to changing combat situations and provide the best possible boosts to the right people at appropriate times.

¾ Bab spellcasters and full spellcasters often fall into the role of Arm. Arm’s have to be able to react to a variety of situations laying down buffs and support whenever called for in order to keep the pace up for the encounter. This can often be a difficult job as situations can change very drastically from turn to turn but given the games nature to favor proactivity over reactivity it is usually best for arms to go somewhere between the anvil and the hammer.

What this means for initiative

Essentially it means that in terms of group tasks and roles your group’s hammers need to have the highest initiatives they can muster going above and beyond normal means to ensure that not only are they above the enemies in initiative but also above all of the group as well. This prevents the group from having to delay actions to ensure the anvil gets his control off quickly and does not endanger the group into accidentally allowing the encounter to go first.

After the anvil’s should come the arms. Arms read the situation presented by the anvil and the encounter and decide on the appropriate action to best support the group whether that is giving a buff to the groups numbers or increasing their action economy to give them a greater advantage over the enemies reduced abilities. In a sense the arms choice of buff encourages the hammers to adopt the chosen strategy and operate from their.

Hammers ideally want to go when the arms and anvils have laid out the encounter and showed them how it is to be fought. If the anvil and arm are competent they should have laid out the encounter in a way that not only makes the fight easier but also takes advantage of the hammer’s capabilities. For example a druid laying out an entangle in such a way as it prevents charging is not doing the mounted cavalier any favors. Likewise a sorcerer casting haste with a bunch of hammers primarily using natural attacks is not really benefiting the group.

What this means for positioning

Positioning is dependent on the group more than anything but there are some basic guidelines that should be followed under this group model.
First Hammer’s need to start combat in a position where they can deal damage right away. Full attacks are preferable but a little damage is preferable to none.

Second arms need to be in a position to support as much of the group as they can with their abilities. For some classes this means they need to be standing around 30 to 60 feet away from the farthest party member though some abilities may require even closer quarters than that.

Finally anvils need to be in a position where they can immediately begin controlling the enemy without wasted action economy. If this means sacrificing defense in initial marches than this can often be worth it since the arm or sometimes the actions of the hammer can prevent an encounter from retaliating against a failed attempt or bad defense.

What this means for the 4 man group

This group make up may lead people to believe that a group only needs to be 3 people to cover all the necessary tasks a group needs to complete for an efficiently defeated encounter. In truth all this means is that 3 optimized people is the minimum amount of people needed to make such a group work. 4 or even 5 people allows much better breathing space in terms of optimization and roles and allows individual characters to split the responsibilities among themselves. Essentially this menas classes can very easily switch roles depending on changing situations in order to take advantage of differing combat environments. Later I’ll show this in action when I put up an example group.

What this means for classes who can’t meet all the requirements.

What this means for classes who cannot meet all the requirements for the specific role a player wants to take is that they must learn to diversify their character to take on secondary or simply another primary role depending on the changing situation. Such an example might be the cleric whose primary role is the arm. Such a cleric can find themselves in a situation where resource preservation and ending the encounter quickly will be preferable to using another spell (i.e. another resource). This cleric would then take on the role of a secondary hammer doling out damage as the situation warrants utilizing the buffs he has already cast in order to increase his efficiency in that role. He may never match the group’s primary hammer’s damage but in providing extra damage rather than a wasteful buff he helpd end the encounter more efficiently ina way his class is capable of.

Likewise a character such as a wizard may find themselves in a situation where their control will do more to hinder or will do nothing relevant to the encounter to make much difference. In this situation the wizard can easily switch into an arm role and provide buffs in place of control in order to help compensate for the inefficient control eh is providing.
Otherwise a character who cannot meet the requirements nor be able to segue easily into a secondary task must compensate for this lack of capability in one or more areas by being exceptional in another. For example Magus’s are often expected to take on the hammer role. However on paper magus’s do not perform this role very well having to expend more than a couple of finite resources each combat in order to bring them on par with full bab classes like barbarian’s or fighters.

Therefore a magus will often make up for this lack of resource efficiency by “novaing” or bringing to bear as much damage as possible in a round in order to go above and beyond expectations effectively sparing resources from other characters by ending an encounter as quickly as possible allowing more resources efficient characters to stretch even farther into the adventuring day at the cost of later capability.

Another way some classes can compensate for lacking abilities in their chosen area of expertise is by sacrificing one or more aspects of their class to efficiently fulfill that role. Usually this is a secondary class aspect such as Channel Energy or skill points. This also applies when grabbing archetypes since they are usually chosen to exemplify one or more aspects of a class at the expense of another.

What this means for defense.

It means that defenses are not the responsibility of the individual but rather the responsibility as the group as a whole. Positioning and efficient control count as the first and best line of defense against most encounters. Personal defenses like resistances, saves, armor class and so forth are certainly considerations but do not function well considering the games lean towards offense. However personal defenses should not be ignore when building a character to do any of the listed tasks. By having a good personal defense you help the group conserve resources that would otherwise spent on your protection.

All this really means is, in the end it is best to work for superior positioning as a form of defense rather than dedicating the majority of a character to passive defenses such as AC or active situational defenses such as Crane Style. While these builds can stand on their own merit when it comes to resource conservation defenses still do not work towards the overall goal of defeating the encounter.

How this model identifies unbalanced groups

Groups without Hammers: Groups without hammers are exceedingly rare due to the ease of which many classes naturally fulfill that task. However this is usually noted by extended battles with supposedly easy encounters where more than a normal amount of resources are expended to control the enemy and buff the group sufficiently to quickly end an encounter without taking too much damage.

Groups without Anvils: Groups without anvils typically end up having an overabundance of hammers with one or two members playing the part of arms. These groups typically have fast, furious fights where the group takes a lot of damage. In these situations the arms often take on a reactive role providing healing and buffs as able while the hammers frantically try to end the encounter quickly. Depending on the nature of the hammers this often drains the arms very quickly of resources or forces the hammers into more and more defensive roles draining overall resources more as the group is not ending encounters efficiently enough.

Groups without Arms Perhaps the most forgiving of the three major imbalances. These groups usually spend more resources than necessary to finish an encounter. When they don’t they exist on a razor’s edge where an enemies passed save or a characters failed save can mean the difference between failure and victory. This is much worse in groups that lack the means to magically heal themselves and are thus forced into shorter adventuring days or burning wealth on tons of cure light wound wands.

Groups with an insufficiency in one of the three tasks.
Groups with an insufficiency usually show one of more symptoms of one of the above sorts of groups. In those cases the characters are assumed to be built competently and played well. However some cases are more difficult to diagnose than others. In some groups it has been poor optimization choice (the ranged rogue being a sole source of damage as an example). In other’s it’s been poor tactical decisions (hammers beating the anvils in initiative constantly and rushing in before proper control/buffs can be applied). For some groups it’s simply a blatant lack of cohesion.

These sorts of problems can only be talked through both in and out of characters. It makes sense for an adventuring group accustomed to dealing with constant danger to work out how to handle those dangers and make sure every party member is clear on what their main goals in combat should be in any given situation.

What an ideally balanced group looks like

So right now I want to provide an example of the group model I’ve described making use of the metaphor I’ve provided. Keep in mind this is merely an example and individual group needs may call for different sorts of characters to maintain the necessary balance. This group is meant to handle a variety of situations for a given level and helps illustrate how group balance is achievable. These are not super optimized characters and certain options I picked merely because they were interesting or fun sounding.

First up is the Wizard

Buffs McGreasy:
Buffs Mcgreasy
Female Elf Wizard 4, Level 4, Init +16, HP 20/20, Speed
AC 13, Touch 13, Flat-footed 10, Fort +3, Ref +5, Will +5, Base Attack Bonus 2
(+3 Dex)
Abilities Str 10, Dex 16, Con 11, Int 21, Wis 10, Cha 7
Condition None
Spellbook:
0: All

1: Grease, Enlarge Person, Summon Monster 1, Shield, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Snapdragon Fireworks, Unseen Servant, Dancing Lantern, Expeditious Excavation

2: Pyrotechnics, Glitterdust, Mirror Image, Web, Summon Monster 2, Fog Cloud

Primary Role: Anvil

Secondary Role: Arm

As the groups main anvil Buffs McGreasy here wants to go first thus much of her resources are dedicating to ensure that nothing short than a great roll by his opponents and a poor roll by herself will allow them to get the initiative on her.

Like most GOD wizards her primary goal is to control the enemy through a series of good battlefield control spells. Glitterdust will be her spell of choice in most situations that aren’t too close ranged since it effectively destroys an enemies effectiveness in ranged combat.
However if, for example, ranged combat is not a viable option than Buffs can make use of grease to knock enemies prone or slow down advances so her groups superior reach can more easily come into play or she can resort to buffs from her class abilities to increase the effectiveness of the group as a whole.

After our wizard we have the groups cleric.

Tusky McDancey:
Tusky McDancey
F NG Half Orc Evangelist 4, Level 4, Init +4, HP 29/29, Speed
AC 16, Touch 11, Flat-footed 15, Fort +7, Ref +3, Will +7, Base Attack Bonus 3
Reach +1 Glaive +8 (1d10+7, x3)
+1 Glaive (P.Attack) +7 (1d10+10, )
(+5 Armor, +1 Dex)
Abilities Str 18, Dex 12, Con 14, Int 7, Wis 15, Cha 13
Condition None

Primary Role: Arm

Secondary Role: Hammer

Tusky here is the groups cleric. Her evangelist archetype gives her bardic performance giving her an excellent buff ability right off the bat. Stacked with bless she gives an easy +2 to attack rolls and +1 to damage rolls that will stack with everything else the party has. If this is not enough she can also use her luck domain power to give rerolls to her groups hammers providing even better buff potential.
Once she has provided all the buffing necessary and combat gets too close for one of her hammers to operate effectively she can easily take the buffs granted and start swinging her big glaive around for very respectable damage and even provides a respectable screen with her reach weapon and combat reflexes that would allow her ranged hammers a bit more breathing room to work. Overall Tusky is very versatile and while being a hammer is a second job she can still perform it quite well in later rounds.

Next we have the groups bard.

Indiana Bardo:
Indianna Bardo
m NG Human Archaeologist Bard 4, Level 4, Init +3, HP 25/25, Speed
AC 18, Touch 13, Flat-footed 15, Fort +3, Ref +8, Will +6, Base Attack Bonus 3
+1 Short Bow +7 (1d6+2, )
Masterwork Whip +7 (1d3+2, )
(+5 Armor, +3 Dex)
Abilities Str 12, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 12, Wis 12, Cha 16
Condition None

Primary Role: Hammer

Secondary Role: Anvil

Indiana Bardo here is a very respectable ranged combatant. Easily pulling solid damage from round one and doing even more with the inclusion of Allegro and Arcane strike Indiana is excellent at dropping big damage down range.

Unfortunately he is not as competent at melee as Tusky and Grumpy so when combat gets too close he falls back to a controlling role using grease, glitterdust and combat maneuvers with his whip to befuddle and control encounters while Tusky and Grumpy work on the encounter with their polearms. It’s notable that even though Indiana is a bard his Archaeologist archetype changes his inspire courage so that his Archaeologists luck ability actually stacks with the clerics inspire courage. This is particularly notable since it allows the bard to get a greater benefit from the buffs being thrown around than what would normally be available.

Last but not least we have Grumpy McShootsfaces the dwarven ranger.

Grumpy McShootsface:
Grumpy McShootsfaces
M N Dwarf Ranger 4, Level 4, Init +3, HP 38/38, Speed
AC 19, Touch 12, Flat-footed 17, Fort +8, Ref +7, Will +3, Base Attack Bonus 4
Mw. Composite Longbow +7 (1d8+4, )
Mw. Comp. Long Bow (RS) +5/+5 (1d8+4, )
+1 Dwarven Longhammer +9 (2d6+7, x3)
+1 Breastplate (+7 Armor, +2 Dex)
Abilities Str 18, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 13, Cha 5
Condition None

Primary Role: Hammer

Grumpy McShootsfaces here is the groups dedicated hammer. His one and only concern in combat is to deal as much damage as possible in as short amount of time as possible. He accomplishes this by being a competent archer and a great melee specialist allowing him to full attack as soon as it comes to his initiative. By waiting for his cleric and wizard to go he effectively boosts his own chances of doing a lot more damage to easily hit opponents. With his animal companion to add even more damage Grumpy easily out DPR’s much of his group most of the time and many encounters at this level will be ended before too many resources are exhausted. I left favored enemy and favored terrains blank as these tend to be campaign dependent choices made by individual players. Since this group is meant to operate in nearly every campaign I can think of things like miscellaneous gear and choices like that I’ve left blank.
Some things that are worth noting about this group is that it does not ignore other aspects of the game. It still has very solid passive defenses with the groups dedicated hammer by far being the toughest cookie to crack ensuring that it will take quite a bit of effort to stop him from ending encounters. Likewise the group is still solid in the face and utility skills department. In terms of healing you have three characters who can cast healing spells and two of them even carry cure wands for out of combat healing.

Overall the group is meant to be solid and work cohesively under the model I have described. It’s easy to see a group of players coming together to make these characters (the prototypical elven wizard, the half orc “cheerleader” fun character, the Indiana jones inspired character, and the somewhat optimized dwarven ranger). Only one of the party members is completely married to his role (and even out of combat still has a number of thins he can do) There is no singular build or ability that ties this group together. It is just a simple straight forward strategy that works.

IN CONCLUSION

Ultimately a lot of the information provided here will not produce any amazing epiphanies or sudden realizations about the nature of group cohesiveness and balance. Primarily because a lot of this knowledge has been gathered over a period of time from reading and rereading various guides, topics, debates, actual play experience and the testimonies of others that illustrate what works and what doesn’t. Simply put this model for group balance only includes what is known to work and nothing more. While a group’s actual needs in order to accomplish these tasks may differ this is fundamentally what is known to work. We know that putting out a lot of damage is important. We know that controlling the enemy and the battlefield is important and we know that providing the necessary support to keep this cycle going is important. Therefore a group needs to be able to do those three things. Many groups naturally gravitate towards this model without even realizing it. Saying something as simple as “we could really use a full caster” or “we could really use a cleric” says volumes about how a group or individual feels about group balance. The only real challenge in these cases is not only ensuring the the individuals are competent but also ensuring that the group is cohesive enough to play off of one another’s strengths and be a benefit to one another rather than a detriment.

A BRIEF FAQ:

Why the metaphor?

Ease of understanding. You can easily call them Controllers, Strikers, Leaders for all I care. The end result is still the same.

What did you use to build your example group?

20pt. buy. Standard wealth for level. Core races only.

Hey I have a 4th role/task/thing you missed adn its called ______

Chances are you are describing an out of combat role or a combat role that is simply unnecessary. The model does not describe how you are doing it as much as what you are doing. And it usually falls under one of those three categories.

If a class cannot fulfill all of the requirements of a character dedicated to the task does that make it a bad class for that role?

No, it simply means a player will have to identify the insufficiencies and either work around them or otherwise be able to take on a secondary role when circumstances prevent them from performing there assigned task well. Some classes that are deemed bad to disappointing by players are usually deemed as such because of the difficulty in making those classes fit well into a single task as well as other classes under a similar theme.

Hey the truths you illustrated are complete bunk because in my games (insert houserule/cornercase/oddgmstyle/headless clown here)

That's nice. If those truths don't apply to you then chances are you are doing something different than what pathfinder widely calls for. Nothing wrong with that but it doesn't make them less true for the overall game as written and typically played.

Hey my two handed fighter took Cornugon Smash. Does that make him an anvi because he debuffs people everytime he swings?

No. It makes him an incidental anvil. That is to say that in the course of doing his task he also happens to be acting in the capacity of another. You notice that some classes (like maguses and alchemists especially) do well in doing simultaneous tasks like this. Generally speaking while doing multiple roles at the same time is great and very action efficient it's still a good idea not to invest too much into this idea.


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Very interesting post TarkXT. I hope most readers don't find its length intimidating by itself. There are some concepts explored that are worth viewing from as many angles as possible.

In terms of terminology, I am somewhat sanguine about coming up with new words to describe existing concepts, so I doubt your "hammer/anvil/arm" analogy will catch on. But you've clearly given some thought to how to describe things in a logical and intuitive fashion.

The more I play the game though, the more I am coming to appreciate the challenge inherent in less than optimal character builds and how to win the encounter anyway. At one point in my gaming career I used to push my game partners to build efficient characters with well defined roles. Doing so allowed us to become a highly efficient fighting machine.

But these days I find myself more interested in allowing all the players to build whatever they like, and then try to figure out how to approach the encounters with the abilities at hand. The GM is going to scale up or down accordingly anyway.

Thanks for sharing this.


This should possibly be a guide. I found this to be immensely helpful as I often run 4 characters solo and I am always trying to figure that "great" synergistic, dynamic, magic bullet for all scenarios group of 4. Good work.


how did you get the wiz an inititive of +16 I see +3 from stat, improved init. +4 and +2 from a trait such as reactionary but thats still only +9. Am I missing something that adds to initative?


Run, Just Run wrote:
how did you get the wiz an inititive of +16 I see +3 from stat, improved init. +4 and +2 from a trait such as reactionary but thats still only +9. Am I missing something that adds to initative?

Now add +4 for familiar and +1 for ioun stone. I can't remember where the last two came from as its been weeks since I made the character. Still +14 is bonkers for this level.


Maybe he's a foresight diviner (+2 @4th lvl) with a greensting scorpion(+4) that still only comes out to +15 but I think that's pretty good.


Adamantine Dragon wrote:


In terms of terminology, I am somewhat sanguine about coming up with new words to describe existing concepts, so I doubt your "hammer/anvil/arm" analogy will catch on. But you've clearly given some thought to how to describe things in a logical and intuitive fashion.

The actual terminology used is unimportant. You can use T-ball terms too if you wanted. The point was to make an easy to understand metaphor to illustrate the concepts.


I think it works, kind of reminds me of lever/fulcrum metaphor.


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Good work TarkXT. Have you considered making this into a guide? Personally, I'd like to see "TarkXT's guide to party building" comprised of what you wrote here along with community submitted builds.


I'll just add that, playing PFS only for just over a month now (like 16 sessions total) one thing I'm always challenged by is, looking at the ragtag group that shows up, figuring out what we've got to work with and how to best coordinate our efforts towards victory. This is a pretty helpful framework for considering that going forwards. Thanks!

... and yeah, I started by building one of those spammy characters you mentioned, ranger archer. Great at that, usually does most damage in party, but not much else, and there've been more than a few situations where the party almost failed because it was full of spammers not suited to the situation at hand.


This...is freaking amazing. It applies to the exact problem my current game group is having right now.

We're currently a group of four hammers, zero anvils and zero arms. We find that most encounters are done and over fast because we strike hard. Unfortunately, upon taking damage we have no way of refilling that vital resource (with the exception of my ice troll's regen 5 and the fact the GM has been forgiving enough not to hit me with fire or acid...yet) and no way of keeping the enemy where we want them. A common occurrence is my ice troll tank, Tooth, rushing into combat and hitting for as much damage as possible every turn, but often getting surrounded by enemies and taking massive amounts of damage in return when the enemy should be lucky enough to score a hit. We then have two spell casters that focus on dishing out as much damage/spell as possible and no ability to cast healing spells or control spells, meaning that if their spells don't get the job done and they get past me, the casters are now useless because of a lack of melee attack power and the inability to get out of the situation. Then there's the assassin. Perfect at using stealth to sneak up on enemies and hit them for a ton of sneak attack damage, but if they don't kill or cripple the enemy on one blow they're stuck in hand-to-hand and end up taking massive damage before finally killing the target.

After two encounters we're scrounging for anything health related and praying for good heal skill rolls. I finally decided to take a caster level to try and add some healing, but now I'm more often then not stuck with the job of keeping everyone alive instead of tanking, which ultimately causes combat to last longer and causes me to lose most of my resources after a single encounter!

My old game group had two anvils (one dedicated and the other a primary anvil, secondary hammer), two arms (both primary arms, one a secondary anvil and the other a secondary hammer), and three hammers (one dedicated [me] and the other two were primary hammers with secondary anvil and arm, respectively). Although we were a slightly larger party with a few intricacies, our game play was essentially the basics you covered. Our anvils would lockdown or slow the enemies from far away, our arms would begin prepping the hammers for war and the hammers would move in for the kill. Once the anvils were done, one would begin sending damage down range with their longbow. If the arms had no more buffing to do, one would switch to keeping the enemies on their toes while the other sent damage downrange with their musket. Then the tanks would obviously keep hitting, but if needed one could lockdown/slow enemies and the other could reapply buffs/replenish health as needed.

Our GM saw this and sent well organized enemy hordes at us with similar builds, thus our combats usually lasted around 10 rounds instead of the average of 3-5 (which I still see as too fast), and required us to make tactical decisions throughout the encounter, as well as putting up with the enemies having tactical advantages they could pull out of their sleeves and watching them make similar tactical reactions. Fighting was very dynamic and often kept us on the edges of our seats.

Maybe I can reapply this to my campaign this weekend with my current game group. After all, I'm the GM this time around and have been looking for a way to mix up combat! >:D

Love the post. It's going to my "favorites" and I'll be coming back to it! Also, I thought the anvil/hammer/arm analogy was brilliant! I'll be using that too!

Much thanks for the post!

~Red the Dwarf, who is currently enjoying a very tall flagon of mead!


This was a nice write up, Tark.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Well written. One small quibble: You should probably add Perception in with Initiative as being imperative for the party being able to go first and set the pace. A high Perception helps prevent the enemy from getting the drop on the party, forcing them into a disadvantage and having to make a reactive response.

I'd also add the out of combat roles of Information Gathering and Resource Improvement. Information Gathering consists of traditional scouting (to include magical scrying) and research (to include social and academic efforts; for example, Diplomacy checks/speaking with contacts and Knowledge checks/traditional records research). Information Gathering allows the party to more efficiently handle encounters because they can prepare for the expected terrain and opposition, attacking weaknesses instead of strengths while hopefully preventing the enemy from using their strength fully; Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Resource Improvement covers traditional Craft skills and Magic Item Creation feats, as well as Profession skills to gain extra money, alchemists/magi/wizards/witches adding formulae/spells to their book/familiar, and Leadership to add cohorts/followers. Resource Improvement makes the characters better and/or more versatile.

Osirion

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Modules Subscriber

Very useful Tark! And well presented. I'm definitely going to point my players at this. Maybe I'll have them identify which roll the think they are filling... :)


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

In the section where you discuss which party members should have what initiative, there is a typo. It says that hammers should be best (supposed to be anvils). it confused me horribly, since I was worried maybe I had not been getting what you were saying as well as I thought. Then I saw the part where you made it clear hammers should go last, and all was right again.


I didn't take that as a typo. I read it to mean, they should have the best initiative, so that they can delay until just after the Anvil has control in place, then go immediately. All party members are supposed to have high initiative, but if a Hammer is slowest, then he'd regularly have to wait a few more ticks of the initiative clock before acting after the Anvil/Arm, time in which it's possible the enemy could move out of controlled positions, or act to negate control. If the hammer is fastest, this should happen much less often.

So yes, the hammer should go last, but immediately after the others, and this means he needs the highest initiative.

Am I misinterpreting this?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
rangerjeff wrote:

I didn't take that as a typo. I read it to mean, they should have the best initiative, so that they can delay until just after the Anvil has control in place, then go immediately. All party members are supposed to have high initiative, but if a Hammer is slowest, then he'd regularly have to wait a few more ticks of the initiative clock before acting after the Anvil/Arm, time in which it's possible the enemy could move out of controlled positions, or act to negate control. If the hammer is fastest, this should happen much less often.

So yes, the hammer should go last, but immediately after the others, and this means he needs the highest initiative.

Am I misinterpreting this?

It has the paragraph with the in question "hammers", and the next paragraph begins "After the anvils should come the arms". Since the anvils have not been discussed previously, it only makes sense if it is a typo.

Also in that first paragraph it says " This prevents the group from having to delay actions to ensure the anvil gets his control off quickly", which also seems to mean the anvil is going first :)

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 16

Dragonchess Player wrote:

Well written. One small quibble: You should probably add Perception in with Initiative as being imperative for the party being able to go first and set the pace. A high Perception helps prevent the enemy from getting the drop on the party, forcing them into a disadvantage and having to make a reactive response.

I'd also add the out of combat roles of Information Gathering and Resource Improvement. Information Gathering consists of traditional scouting (to include magical scrying) and research (to include social and academic efforts; for example, Diplomacy checks/speaking with contacts and Knowledge checks/traditional records research). Information Gathering allows the party to more efficiently handle encounters because they can prepare for the expected terrain and opposition, attacking weaknesses instead of strengths while hopefully preventing the enemy from using their strength fully; Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Resource Improvement covers traditional Craft skills and Magic Item Creation feats, as well as Profession skills to gain extra money, alchemists/magi/wizards/witches adding formulae/spells to their book/familiar, and Leadership to add cohorts/followers. Resource Improvement makes the characters better and/or more versatile.

I agree with this - you could possibly add another role to round out the classic four man party - "The Eyes".


TarkXT wrote:

A hammer needs to be able to do the following consistently:

1. Deal at least 1/3 to 2/3 of an encounter’s hp without the need of special circumstances such as critical hits in one round.

2. Deal at least 2/3 to 4/5 of an encounter with the expenditure of personal resources or through special circumstances (flanking, critical hits etc.) in one round.

Please explain what you mean by, "an encounter's hp."

Let's say you are facing a group of four ogres with 30 HP each. How many HP is "1/3 to 2/3 of the encounter's HP"?

Grand Lodge

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Great writeup, but I really suggest calling them "Controller" (instead of Anvil) "Striker" (instead of Hammer) and "Leader" (instead of Arm).

Or for more generic terms, you could still say "Controller", "DPR", and "Support".

Because honestly, try as hard as I can, I can't commit Anvil, Hammer, and Arm to memory.

Sczarni

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Amazing. That is all I have.


zean wrote:

Great writeup, but I really suggest calling them "Controller" (instead of Anvil) "Striker" (instead of Hammer) and "Leader" (instead of Arm).

Or for more generic terms, you could still say "Controller", "DPR", and "Support".

Because honestly, try as hard as I can, I can't commit Anvil, Hammer, and Arm to memory.

I disagree, but I can see where you're coming from. Hammer+Arm+Anvil combines a single image of three roles coming together to achieve a single result: victory. It was definitely something well considered. I also like that the names were changed because it requires you to step back and reexamine each role without any expectations or preconceived notions. A fresh start, if you will.

I think a lot of people avoid the terms "striker," "controller," and "leader" because they've become so entrenched in 4E D&D and a lot of folks don't like how that system turned out. Personally, I hate the term "leader" because it seems to suggest that one person is in charge, so I use "enabler."

Regardless, the concepts are sound and the verbiage doesn't matter. Plus TarkXT even had an aside mentioning this.


Dragonchess Player wrote:

Well written. One small quibble: You should probably add Perception in with Initiative as being imperative for the party being able to go first and set the pace. A high Perception helps prevent the enemy from getting the drop on the party, forcing them into a disadvantage and having to make a reactive response.

I'd also add the out of combat roles of Information Gathering and Resource Improvement. Information Gathering consists of traditional scouting (to include magical scrying) and research (to include social and academic efforts; for example, Diplomacy checks/speaking with contacts and Knowledge checks/traditional records research). Information Gathering allows the party to more efficiently handle encounters because they can prepare for the expected terrain and opposition, attacking weaknesses instead of strengths while hopefully preventing the enemy from using their strength fully; Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Resource Improvement covers traditional Craft skills and Magic Item Creation feats, as well as Profession skills to gain extra money, alchemists/magi/wizards/witches adding formulae/spells to their book/familiar, and Leadership to add cohorts/followers. Resource Improvement makes the characters better and/or more versatile.

Here's the thing. Everything you just described is outside of combat and doesn't exist within the metaphor. You are not building items in combat. You are not making perception checks in the middle of the ambush(very often anyway)to spot it. The model encompasses the moment initiative is rolled to the moment initiative ends. Adding more than whats given muddies the waters and complicates things leading players into traps that could otherwise be avoided. I mean, how useful in the thick of combat is a cleric who spends all his time, resources, and feats crafting stuff?

Then you speak of knowledge checks. In many cases it's merely incidental in the course of making a character. You didn't pick Know (religion) so you could identify the undead. You picked it because it makes sense for your cleric to have. To elaborate further even if you are using these skills effectively in combat what are you doing? Providing information? Wouldn't knowledge just be another softer form of buff? So there you have it. You are acting in the capacity of an incidental arm. Or in the case of perception an incidental anvil since you are "debuffing" the enemies stealth by pointing him out.

This is not to detract however proper preparation and roleplaying out of combat. It is just that these things tend to be very easy to take care of and all too often unnecessary to worry about over much in the long run of the game. Are skill checks like you described important? Yes. Should I build a group strategy around the idea and dedicate a whole other character to the concept? No.

John Kerpan is also correct. Ideally initiative order should look something like this.

1. Anvils
2. Arms
3. Hammers
4. Everyone else.

The whole party should have good initiative. But the Anvils need to have the best. Understand? So yes consider that a typo.

@Blueluck: I should clarify that I generally mean for an at CR encounter. However this necessity may vary depending on the group and gm. Some will call for more damage. Some for less.

In your example that would be about a CR5 or so. So just basing this off of the monster stat by cr table in the bestiary and applying it to the model you'd want your hammer to do, at bare minimum, around 15 damage without expending any resources other than actions. That's actually pretty easy for two handed characters to do. However ideally you most certainly want to be doing more, possibly killing an ogre a round which is also well within the bounds of a 5th level character. This is especially true when working with a competent anvil and arm.

@Zean: Check the brief faq I put on the bottom.

Grand Lodge

I understand why you have limited yourself to pure combat, but I think you're missing out on a bit.

With Stealth/Perception the difference between a nice surprise and a bad one is huge in terms of early (and thus more valuable) actions.


TarkXT wrote:
Run, Just Run wrote:
how did you get the wiz an inititive of +16 I see +3 from stat, improved init. +4 and +2 from a trait such as reactionary but thats still only +9. Am I missing something that adds to initative?
Now add +4 for familiar and +1 for ioun stone. I can't remember where the last two came from as its been weeks since I made the character. Still +14 is bonkers for this level.

Ah ok


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
TarkXT wrote:
Dragonchess Player wrote:

Well written. One small quibble: You should probably add Perception in with Initiative as being imperative for the party being able to go first and set the pace. A high Perception helps prevent the enemy from getting the drop on the party, forcing them into a disadvantage and having to make a reactive response.

I'd also add the out of combat roles of Information Gathering and Resource Improvement. Information Gathering consists of traditional scouting (to include magical scrying) and research (to include social and academic efforts; for example, Diplomacy checks/speaking with contacts and Knowledge checks/traditional records research). Information Gathering allows the party to more efficiently handle encounters because they can prepare for the expected terrain and opposition, attacking weaknesses instead of strengths while hopefully preventing the enemy from using their strength fully; Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Resource Improvement covers traditional Craft skills and Magic Item Creation feats, as well as Profession skills to gain extra money, alchemists/magi/wizards/witches adding formulae/spells to their book/familiar, and Leadership to add cohorts/followers. Resource Improvement makes the characters better and/or more versatile.

Here's the thing. Everything you just described is outside of combat and doesn't exist within the metaphor. You are not building items in combat. You are not making perception checks in the middle of the ambush(very often anyway)to spot it. The model encompasses the moment initiative is rolled to the moment initiative ends. Adding more than whats given muddies the waters and complicates things leading players into traps that could otherwise be avoided. I mean, how useful in the thick of combat is a cleric who spends all his time, resources, and feats crafting stuff?

What you wrote is good as far as it goes, but it's not complete. I'll restate your own premise: "Consider for a moment what your ultimate goal in combat is:

”TO OVER COME THE ENCOUNTER AS EFFICIENTLY AS POSSIBLE”"

If your party gets ambushed frequently because nobody invested in Perception, you will use more resources. Perception is second to Initiative in determining who goes first in a combat; i.e., the surprise round. Perception has out of combat uses as well, but definitely has a critical combat role.

Call Information Gathering "the Eyes" (thanks Jacob Trier) and Resource Improvement "the Iron" to fit it into the metaphor. Without the Eyes, the smith has trouble striking in the proper place at the right time. Without the Iron, the smith lacks quality materials. Generally speaking, most Eyes and Iron fill a combat role as well instead of exclusively focusing on the out of combat role.

Before going on an adventure, the party should be finding out about the terrain features they can expect. As you said, "Positioning is everything." If the terrain is going to be narrow underground corridors with limited sight lines, then mobility constraints lessen the importance of fly or enhanced movement rates and increase the importance of concentrating force (shield wall formations, reach weapons, small area of effect spells). Likewise, if the terrain is primarily under water, swimming and being able to breathe/maneuver while submerged is a critical capability. Also, knowing the terrain and opposition should help determine the best mix of resources to bring to the fight. "Pathfinder is a lot about resource management." For prepared casters especially, customizing their spells to the expected conditions and opponents can make a huge difference in effectiveness. For example, black tentacles is a great spell... against mostly land-bound foes in fairly close proximity; in open terrain, against flying enemies, or in large bodies of water, it's a lot less useful. Likewise, tailoring the your spells that cause elemental damage to avoid/focus on a specific energy type is often a good idea (preparing fireball is great when fighting trolls; horrible when fighting fire giants).

The crafter cleric you mentioned still has access to all of the cleric spells and abilities, filling the Arm and Hammer roles, as well as the Iron role. In fact, because of all the time spent crafting (efficiently converting duplicate/unwanted items into item improvements/desired items), the cleric effectively increases the useable resources available to the party. Increased resources means relatively fewer resources expended per encounter. If the cleric spends a day in between adventures making a wand of cure light wounds, this lets the party conserve/replace the more expensive potions or use limited spell slots for more efficient things while still restoring lost hit points after a fight.

Sczarni

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

This only convinces me that my idea of an ideal party of five (Bard, Cleric/Oracle, Fighter, Magus, Witch) is correct.

Bard covers Arm 1st, Anvil 2nd
Cleric or Oracle covers Arm 1st and Hammer 2nd
Fighter covers Hammer
Magus covers Hammer 1st and pick up the other two when needed.
Witch covers Anvil 1st and Arm 2nd


Quite interesting read there, instant favourite. Also a long post, let the TL;DR crowd despair.

Reading through it, however, I immediately thought of the rogue and monk as two problematic classes; they don't fit any of the primary roles. They might be good secondary hammers but they will not be anvils or arms.

On the other hand, their classes provides utility; a fourth role, which is as you stated out of combat -> irrelevant for your guide. It could still be argued a monk is lousy at utility as well, but for the sake of argument...

What are your thoughts on those two classes? Also, would you say utility is a naturally existing role regardless of the four classes, since everyone can freely choose skills? In other words, you never need to worry about utility because you can give your four characters the skills and spells required to fill that gap regardless of composition.


TarkXT wrote:

Consider for a moment what your ultimate goal in combat is;

”TO OVER COME THE ENCOUNTER AS EFFICIENTLY AS POSSIBLE”

My goal in combat is to overcome the encounter while minimising the chances of a PC death, with efficiency as a secondary goal. In most situations, there is an opportunity to rest up if you've used your resources inefficiently.


JrK wrote:


Reading through it, however, I immediately thought of the rogue and monk as two problematic classes; they don't fit any of the primary roles. They might be good secondary hammers but they will not be anvils or arms.

dont think for a second that a monk cant pull its weight in a group. its a misconception that they cant contribute to an encounter. my monk is 6th level now and im a wrecking ball that the gm has to implement counters to so i dont trivialize encounters. only anti grappling mobs or freedom of movement casters stop my monk from pinning them while the rest of the group coup de grase the target.

my monk, cant speak for damage dealing monks in pathfinder, is a great controller for big bad targets.

on the other hand i have a rogue (ninja) that i use as a scout for encounter preperation, i relay whats "in the next room" so the party knows what resources to burn. i contribute enough damage and mobility to make my spot worth having.

my opinion of the discussions on these boards are that they are flawed, only that they assume the GM is a robot. a gms responsibility is to build encounters that challenge you, not just pull random things from the bestiary and say ok fight this dinosaur that pops into reality from the megaverse, even though you should be fighting a bandit.

so unless you have a gm with very poor philosophies on how to run a game you can run 5 fighters and have fun.


JrK wrote:
Reading through it, however, I immediately thought of the rogue and monk as two problematic classes; they don't fit any of the primary roles. They might be good secondary hammers but they will not be anvils or arms.

TarkXT specifically mentions monks as anvils:

"Pole arm wielding battlefield controllers, or other combat maneuver based classes can have similar roles [as an anvil] and can more easily fall back onto a hammer role once the encounter is sufficiently handled to the point where the hammers can mop up."

As for rogues, I see them as hammers with enough out-of-combat utility to justify having a somewhat sub-optimal combat role in the group, a discussion beyond the scope of TarkXT's Hammer/Anvil/Arm model.


This is very similar to what I have a character using in a game, except I have more roles since I'm not limiting it to combat.
Anvil is the tank type that enemies are smashed against. They can do damage but also need to have a method to prevent incoming damage (AC, DR, etc)
Hammer is a primary damage dealer with little defense
Tongs are the battlefield controllers, shaping the battlefield or moving team members or bad guys(or allowing that movement)
Polishing cloths are the buffers, healers, talkers, etc...

I try to have each character fit at least 2 of the roles with one primary.

Your method is a lot simpler though and gets the point across.


@Jacob. As I said everything as described is only truly relevant out of combat. Perception and knowledge checks as described are functions of arms and anvils that everyone can do. You'll notice in the characters I provided some have decent perception checks and most have knowledge checks. In other words all four are working under this thought without needing to dedicate many resources to it. And if it is considered absolutely vital to your group than it's something all four or five characters can easily dedicate themselves towards without adding in an extra man who will not do be anything other than providing information which everyone can do anyway.

And it's as I said OOC things like crafting, roleplaying and exploring are outside the scope of this model. But as I said, that doesn't make them unimportant. It may be worth making a whole other post about out of combat roles and how they are pertinent to the eventual combat.

@Matthew Downie: Note where I said: You are never 100% safe. Getting attacked while resting happens. It's happened at least once in every game I've been in or run (through numerous GM's mind). Naturally you don't want PC's to die but consider that that's a waste of a big resource: a whole player character. So naturally "efficiently" means you want them to live and it's much more efficient to ensure they live rather than spend tons of money and making them live again. See the point?

Monks and rogeus can fit into one of the three roles. The debate is whether or not they effectively fill those roles. Which I would like to leave for another thread please.

@JRK: Yes utility is a naturally occuring role and often one done just because it makes sense for characters to have. Have you ever made a cleric without knowledge religion? HAve you ever made an inquisitor who doesnt max sense motive and intimidate? A rogue without perception? Class choice tends to push players in numerous directions regarding utility. HEck I built a cryptbreaker alchemist for one gorup solely because they asked for someoen to spot out traps. Yet in combat it never stopped me from fulfilling an anvil role, throwing tangle foot bags and smoke bombs which helped turn difficult encounters into simply challenging


Jupp wrote:
dont think for a second that a monk cant pull its weight in a group. its a misconception that they cant contribute to an encounter. my monk is 6th level now and im a wrecking ball that the gm has to implement counters to so i dont trivialize encounters. only anti grappling mobs or freedom of movement casters stop my monk from pinning them while the rest of the group coup de grase the target.

Anecdotal evidence (my experience is the other way around). Also as an aside: pinned condition does not allow coup de grace as the target is not helpless. Don't agree that a monk makes a great controller, but OP does not want that discussion so I will leave it at that.

Humphrey Boggard wrote:

TarkXT specifically mentions monks as anvils:

"Pole arm wielding battlefield controllers, or other combat maneuver based classes can have similar roles [as an anvil] and can more easily fall back onto a hammer role once the encounter is sufficiently handled to the point where the hammers can mop up."
As for rogues, I see them as hammers with enough out-of-combat utility to justify having a somewhat sub-optimal combat role in the group, a discussion beyond the scope of TarkXT's Hammer/Anvil/Arm model.

This will be a direct reply to TarkXT's post above as well as to you. I simply don't agree a monk will be an effective CMB monkey/damage dealer and similar for rogue. Throwing tanglefoot bags (which everyone can do) just illustrates that those classes have nothing better to do (apparently throwing commonly available items is better than whatever else they could be doing).

But that's not really the point, and I wish not to spark that discussion here. My point is just that: Given my... opinion... about rogues and monks they obviously fall short given the analysis above. In my view "not effective" = "cannot" for purposes of the game. A wizard can wield a weapon, but we say he 'cannot wield a weapon' (worth his salt).

I merely wanted to hear your view regarding the effectiveness of those two classes given the three roles, as I can accept those classes would be warranted for utility. But for design discussion, your analysis is a great tool; a tool that warrants a revision of the existing rogue and monk classes if we were to assume a) my opinion and b) that character should always have some effective role in combat, as utility flows naturally from all classes (a view which I share - with the exception of the Fighter).


*dotting*

Cheliax

I love this concept, on paper.

But in most groups, this method of group-building will probably result in one or two people playing a character they like and want to play, while the others are merely making do in order to fill the required roles.

I'm guilty of this myself. I often am the last in my groups to choose my character. I often choose my character to fill a perceived niche in the group that was I think is missing. This sometimes results in me having less fun by filling a role I'm not enjoying as much. Other times, the role I foresaw as being needed turned out to be nipples on a breastplate. Other times, it works out great and I find a class/build that becomes a new favorite.

I love being part of a strong synergistic group, but there's also something to be said for simply playing what you enjoy and having a great time, whether it's optimized or not. Then again, maybe groups like this get you out of your comfort zone and show you a class/role that you really enjoy, but never would have picked otherwise.

So...I'm just going to go sit on that fence over there.


Lamontius wrote:


I love this concept, on paper.

But in most groups, this method of group-building will probably result in one or two people playing a character they like and want to play, while the others are merely making do in order to fill the required roles.

I'm guilty of this myself. I often am the last in my groups to choose my character. I often choose my character to fill a perceived niche in the group that was I think is missing. This sometimes results in me having less fun by filling a role I'm not enjoying as much. Other times, the role I foresaw as being needed turned out to be nipples on a breastplate. Other times, it works out great and I find a class/build that becomes a new favorite.

I love being part of a strong synergistic group, but there's also something to be said for simply playing what you enjoy and having a great time, whether it's optimized or not. Then again, maybe groups like this get you out of your comfort zone and show you a class/role that you really enjoy, but never would have picked otherwise.

So...I'm just going to go sit on that fence over there.

Funny thing is you can still have groups who do exactly that and still manage to come out to emulate the model just by sitting down in character and discussing how they can be a more efficient fighting force. I've done it before and came up with good results. Make being a cohesive group a part of the story and it becomes easier to swallow.


Most classes allow multiple roles after all.


For the record I am happy people are finding this useful and easy to understand. If you do have ideas to apply in your own games (like the eyes and the iron) feel free to do so. I jut think it's unnecessary.


I'm still in the process of reading through this, but I've got one question. You mention that haste doesn't really benefit a group that primary uses natural attacks, but why is that? From the spell's description, it sounds like it benefits natural attacks just as much as any other physical attack.

Haste:
The transmuted creatures move and act more quickly than normal. This extra speed has several effects.

When making a full attack action, a hasted creature may make one extra attack with one natural or manufactured weapon. The attack is made using the creature's full base attack bonus, plus any modifiers appropriate to the situation. (This effect is not cumulative with similar effects, such as that provided by a speed weapon, nor does it actually grant an extra action, so you can't use it to cast a second spell or otherwise take an extra action in the round.)

A hasted creature gains a +1 bonus on attack rolls and a +1 dodge bonus to AC and Reflex saves. Any condition that makes you lose your Dexterity bonus to Armor Class (if any) also makes you lose dodge bonuses.

All of the hasted creature's modes of movement (including land movement, burrow, climb, fly, and swim) increase by 30 feet, to a maximum of twice the subject's normal speed using that form of movement. This increase counts as an enhancement bonus, and it affects the creature's jumping distance as normal for increased speed. Multiple haste effects don't stack. Haste dispels and counters slow.


How good Haste is depends on how much of the character's damage is in their first attack. Most natural attack builds stack on as many natural attacks as possible and haste only benefits the first. The single attack natural attack builds have big dice and stack on vital strike, also reducing the benefit of haste.

Cheliax

While haste is of the least benefit to builds that have a bunch of little attacks, it's still one of the greatest buffs in the game.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
TarkXT wrote:
For the record I am happy people are finding this useful and easy to understand. If you do have ideas to apply in your own games (like the eyes and the iron) feel free to do so. I jut think it's unnecessary.

Having spent the last 16 years in the military, as well as nearly twice that playing RPGs, I may have a greater appreciation of the importance of the intelligence and logistics functions. How well you perform is tremendously influenced by what you know about the situation and what resources you have.

I've also seen plenty of groups that shortchange them, for one reason or another. Which is a shame, because a party that fills the eyes and the iron roles performs much better in the anvil, arm, and hammer roles. You seem to be making an assumption on how well the party prepares before combat; in my experience, that's not always a safe assumption.

The eyes may be able to find a way to avoid unnecessary fights in pursuit of their goal, so that the party can concentrate on the critical ones; or possibly just find a way to defeat the opposition in detail, instead of facing them together in a tougher fight. Even if neither of these is possible, having a good idea of the enemy's strengths, weaknesses, and position before engaging in combat provides the party with an advantage: they know generally what to expect and can plan ways to blunt the enemy's attacks while the party attacks at a weak point.

The iron is all about having the best resources possible. It's usually better to have one +2 weapon than four +1 weapons. A wand of cure light wounds is more immediately useful in/after combat than 750 gp (or 375 gp if using the magic item creation feats).

Qadira

I like this. It portrays exactly what I think about when I create a character to suit the needs of the existing party members.


Some Random Dood wrote:

I'm still in the process of reading through this, but I've got one question. You mention that haste doesn't really benefit a group that primary uses natural attacks, but why is that? From the spell's description, it sounds like it benefits natural attacks just as much as any other physical attack.

** spoiler omitted **

I think I might have been thinking of the older version of haste. Which included manufactured weapons only. The point of the example is to illustrate how it's not enough to simply throw buffs out but to also throw buffs that matter.


Dragonchess Player wrote:
I've also seen plenty of groups that shortchange them, for one reason or another. Which is a shame, because a party that fills the eyes and the iron roles performs much better in the anvil, arm, and hammer roles. You seem to be making an assumption on how well the party prepares before combat; in my experience, that's not always a safe assumption.

All fine and dandy, but you're probably overlooking something; the Iron and Eye are just as much utility as the Diplomat, Tracker and so on. Like other utility fuctions, the Iron and the Eye 'flow naturally' from the already existing Anvil/Arm/Hammer. The Iron and the Eye don't function on the same level. A primary Anvil can be a primary Iron and Eye but this has nothing to do with actual combat situations. Having intel and +2's is always good, but this flows naturally from balancing the Anvil/Arm/Hammer roles. Look at the 'ideal party' OP posted: these characters can easily pick up some divination spells, Stealth + Invisibility and crafting feats, and it does not impede in any way on their Anvil/Arm/Hammer roles.

Bottom line: Eye and Iron are not on the same level, and can be 'tacked on' just like Diplomat/Tracker/Lore Monkey/Trap Disabler and all other utility. Thus, they are not relevant for this guide.


TarkXT wrote:

1. Deal at least 1/3 to 2/3 of an encounter’s hp without the need of special circumstances such as critical hits in one round.

2. Deal at least 2/3 to 4/5 of an encounter with the expenditure of personal resources or through special circumstances (flanking, critical hits etc.) in one round.

That would mean that no combat lasts longer than 3 rounds, most end during round 1. I've never been in a game where that was the fact and I guess if I was I'd feel the battles are too easy.

3 rounds of combat would only happen if there is only 1 hammer who performs at the lower range and doesn't crit and doesn't spend resources.
With one primary and one secondary hammer, both using personal resources or critting we would see the combat end during or after round 1. The averabe fight would be about 2 rounds.
Are your games really like that?

Andoran

Conceptually I don't disagree that this is "an" approach, and a well presented one at that, but the beauty of the system is how many ways there are to skin the proverbial cat.

The mistake of 4e was over-defining roles. The outcome is thing, not the path to the outcome. Some builds/classes have better synergies, but when you start over-defining what everyone's "Role" is rather than asking what is needed in a given group.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Umbranus wrote:

That would mean that no combat lasts longer than 3 rounds, most end during round 1. I've never been in a game where that was the fact and I guess if I was I'd feel the battles are too easy.

3 rounds of combat would only happen if there is only 1 hammer who performs at the lower range and doesn't crit and doesn't spend resources.
With one primary and one secondary hammer, both using personal resources or critting we would see the combat end during or after round 1. The averabe fight would be about 2 rounds.
Are your games really like that?

I took that to mean that a Hammer should be able to deal this much damage, not necessarily that he will every time. However, this discussion could really derail this thread. Here's a thread where combat lenght was discussed at much lenght.

Go to Combat in 3 Rounds?.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
JrK wrote:
Dragonchess Player wrote:
I've also seen plenty of groups that shortchange them, for one reason or another. Which is a shame, because a party that fills the eyes and the iron roles performs much better in the anvil, arm, and hammer roles. You seem to be making an assumption on how well the party prepares before combat; in my experience, that's not always a safe assumption.

All fine and dandy, but you're probably overlooking something; the Iron and Eye are just as much utility as the Diplomat, Tracker and so on. Like other utility fuctions, the Iron and the Eye 'flow naturally' from the already existing Anvil/Arm/Hammer. The Iron and the Eye don't function on the same level. A primary Anvil can be a primary Iron and Eye but this has nothing to do with actual combat situations. Having intel and +2's is always good, but this flows naturally from balancing the Anvil/Arm/Hammer roles. Look at the 'ideal party' OP posted: these characters can easily pick up some divination spells, Stealth + Invisibility and crafting feats, and it does not impede in any way on their Anvil/Arm/Hammer roles.

Bottom line: Eye and Iron are not on the same level, and can be 'tacked on' just like Diplomat/Tracker/Lore Monkey/Trap Disabler and all other utility. Thus, they are not relevant for this guide.

Conceptually, Diplomacy, Knowledge, and Survival skills are all part of the Eye's role: gathering information (either through personal contact, research, or tracking). Separating them is like separating the archer, blaster, sneak attacker, tank, and two-weapon fighter from the Hammer role. Trap Disarmer isn't relevant to this guide, but I never included it in the first place.

You are making a large assumption that the Eye and Iron roles "flow naturally from balancing the Anvil/Arm/Hammer roles." As the subject states "you may have been doing it all along," but that doesn't mean everybody prepares equally well before combat. There are groups that just "kick down the door" and start combat without any scouting or information gathering (apart from whatever is passed on during the start of the scenario). Likewise, there are groups that don't "bother" with customizing their gear or prepared spells to achieve greater efficiency. In both cases, they will eventually find themselves in situations that are more difficult and use more resources than necessary (the former most likely because they attack a fortified position head on, the later because they face an opponent that is resistant/immune to most/all of their spells).

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