The Balanced Party: Necessary Evil or Outdated Relic?


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I originally posted this write-up beneath an accompanying comic, but I'd like to pick your collective brains on this one, especially with 2e looming in the future. Ahem:

Kicking down the door is a mainstay of adventuring. That’s why you’ve got damaging object rules, the portable ram, and barbarians. You’ve also got teleportation magic, the knock spell, and good old fashioned finding the key. There are any number of ways to get through a locked door, but for some reason gamers seem to carry this collective assumption that, “We need a set of lock picks in the party!” I’m talking of course about the old party composition concept.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “I got stuck playing the healer” you know what I’m talking about. Sing it along with me now: fighter, caster, cleric, thief! These are the things that every party needs, right? The longer I've played and the more classes I've seen in action, however, I've become less and less convinced that a traditionally balanced party is strictly required.

I mean sure, it’s nice to cover a lot of different abilities between the different PCs. If everyone is good at hitting things and nobody is good at magic, for example, you’re going to have a tough time in the Arcanum of Esoteric Spell Riddles. But for my money, I think that party composition is a great way for GMs to figure out what kind of campaign their players want. Did everybody roll up a sneaky guy? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add a thieves guild. Did everybody roll up a talky guy? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add some courtly intrigue. Did everybody roll up a barbarian? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add some dwarf tossing. If the players find themselves without heals, lock picks, or relevant spells, then that’s an interesting challenge. Let them hire a healer/locksmith/sage in game. Give them a quest for a magic item to fill the role. Don’t design for a perfectly “balanced” party. You want your players to come up with unique solutions to in-game problems, right? This is an opportunity to let them do that.

Question of the day then: Have you ever been in an “unbalanced party?” How did it go?


A balanced party is stronger than an unbalanced one. You'll be able to accomplish more before you need to retreat and find a safe location to rest.

Now that said, you really only need sufficient healers and then some non-healers. You can even skip the non-healers if you feel like it. Let me list some examples here.

Recently we did the entire Iron Gods AP without an arcane in the party. 1 bow fighter, 1 sling ranger, and 1 tech gun slinger. Cleric/technologist and an Alchemist(trap breaker) finished out the party. Not only did we not have an arcane caster, we didn't have a melee anything (the cleric used guns, alchemist was all bombs). It was a glorious mess and a lot of fun. I think the Alchemist ran out of bombs twice during the campaign.

Back in 3.5 we ran a "wizard" party. 3 wizards, 1 cleric, and there was occasionally a rogue. Since I knew we'd need someone that could soak damage I made a Dwarf Wizard with a 14 int and a 20 con, with a toad familiar (raises con back in the 3.5 days). There was a house rule that let you take half plus one for hit points instead of rolling, on a d4 that comes out to 3 so I always skipped rolling, a wizard with 8 hp per level was a monster. Since my wizard was a low int guy I mainly loaded up on summoning spells which also helped to keep the enemy from hurting the wizards. Towards the end, my wizard could regenerate (thanks to high con, not because of an item!), and survived a several rounds in melee combat with an anti-paladin wielding a vorpal sword. The anti-paladin didn't miss at all, the wizard had that many hp...and a cleric casting heal.

We've also been in old D&D games where healing wasn't allowed. That is seriously painful. It makes for a very slow and cautious game where you can't afford to get in combat. it wasn't fun and didn't feel like D&D at all. It was just bad.

One last example. The current game I'm running has someone that decided to make a destruction cleric. That guy has since the first day of the game out melee damaged the rest of the players. Sometimes he out damages the rest of the entire group. His special ability lets him give out a damage and crit boost to everybody...everybody. Enemies included. He isn't great at healing, the build nerfed his channeling ability 2 levels but its an interesting character.


Meirril wrote:
Now that said, you really only need sufficient healers...

Can you get away with a wand of cure light wounds and a UMD check, or is that ultimately bad policy?


DRD1812 wrote:

I originally posted this write-up beneath an accompanying comic, but I'd like to pick your collective brains on this one, especially with 2e looming in the future. Ahem:

Kicking down the door is a mainstay of adventuring. That’s why you’ve got damaging object rules, the portable ram, and barbarians. You’ve also got teleportation magic, the knock spell, and good old fashioned finding the key. There are any number of ways to get through a locked door, but for some reason gamers seem to carry this collective assumption that, “We need a set of lock picks in the party!” I’m talking of course about the old party composition concept.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “I got stuck playing the healer” you know what I’m talking about. Sing it along with me now: fighter, caster, cleric, thief! These are the things that every party needs, right? The longer I've played and the more classes I've seen in action, however, I've become less and less convinced that a traditionally balanced party is strictly required.

If anything, that's convincing me that balanced parties are better.

If I were to compare 3e to 4e and Paizo...

In 3e there were a lot of prestige classes, which increased PC power, but not many new base classes, until late in 3e when Book of Nine Swords and other such books came out. Even then, BoNS was effectively "replacing" base character classes. Some of the arcane books took an odd way of weakening magical power (the Beguiler might be just as powerful as a wizard, but only in a limited selection of spells, so why not play a wizard? If wizards were overpowered the fix was errata'ing spells, not presenting options that players might turn their noses up at or DMs might not even know about).

In 4e paragon paths and epic destinies (the equivalent of prestige classes) were far less important. There were loads of new classes but they all fell into one of four slots. (On the "healer" topic, you didn't "need" a healer, but you probably still wanted one. Plus they made healing take up target PC resources and fewer actions, so it wasn't wearying to play a cleric, or warlord.) On the down side, the classes that filled their roles the best were the first set of classes. I couldn't find any defender that was better than the fighter, any ranged striker better than the ranger, or any controller better than the wizard. A few of the newer classes were outright failures to fill their role.

In Pathfinder there's loads of new classes and archetypes that generally mix classes together or play a different take on an old class. Usually these new classes are weaker, rather than stronger, compared to 3e's glut of classes. You can miss out on crucial spells (eg the oracle), miss out on important class skills (eg some combined classes get either fewer skill points or fewer class skills than the originating classes), get slower spell access (eg a warpriest compared to a cleric), and so forth.

Quote:
I mean sure, it’s nice to cover a lot of different abilities between the different PCs. If everyone is good at hitting things and nobody is good at magic, for example, you’re going to have a tough time in the Arcanum of Esoteric Spell Riddles. But for my money, I think that party composition is a great way for GMs to figure out what kind of campaign their players want. Did everybody roll up a sneaky guy? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add a thieves guild. Did everybody roll up a talky guy? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add some courtly intrigue. Did everybody roll up a barbarian? Adjust your campaign accordingly and add some dwarf tossing.

That's good advice if you're writing your own adventures, not so great advice if you're using pre-built adventures. I think the pre-built adventures are popular largely because DMs don't have enough prep time out of game, even if some people see them as uncreative railroads.

Quote:
If the players find themselves without heals, lock picks, or relevant spells, then that’s an interesting challenge.

This is something I would have to disagree with, especially when it comes to healing. Way back in the 2e days, my group did not have internet connections (as we were all kids back when the internet was expensive). So we would just vaguely say "I want to be a cleric of so-and-so" and then show up at the game, and we find out they're a death cleric and don't have access to the Healing Sphere, etc. One of my last 2e games featured a paladin as our only healer. Two hit points per day of healing. The DM was making healing potions very common in treasure, so of course this was extremely obvious.

I've been in games with weak healing systems, where PCs refuse to take any sort of risk. I don't mean avoiding combat when it's not necessary, as that's just smart, I mean outright refusing to engage adventure hooks because they might get injured, or are already injured and so delay or avoid engaging in hooks.

Lacking relevant spells depends on the adventure design. If you are writing your own adventure you can roll with that. But a DM using a pre-printed adventure is more constrained.

Lacking lockpicking is probably less of an issue. Between spells, physical force and social skills, you can usually bypass a barrier.


Needed, no, but it does make adventuring go smoother and easier if you have all the "bases" covered.


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I wrote a quick guide on this for new players in order to help build a balanced party without limiting themselves to specific classes. I think it's a fair statement that tailor made adventures are always better than generic adventures. That being said, a balanced group is able to tackle a wider variety of adventures/challenges. While you could simply avoid challenges that the group can't deal with it means you'll get less variety, which ultimately means the campaign runs a greater risk of getting stale.

Probably the most unbalanced groups I've played with were PFS games. Healers are so rare that a wand of CLW is basically standard gear and you can generally assume that no one in the group will be able to find traps. Overall, it made for a less enjoyable experience since challenges were either super easy or super hard and you had no idea which of the two the next encounter was going to be.

As a DM I hate it when the group doesn't have a trapfinder, because it means that traps and locks are now either complete roadblocks or inconsequential. This is even worse when the group has simply hired a rogue because now I'm left to directly dictate if a particular trap or locked door is impassible or inconsequential based on how it compares to the NPC rogue. Ultimately, I just left started leaving traps and intricate locked doors out completely because it wasn't worth the time and energy when drawing a wall or hallway has the same impact on the group.

IMO balanced groups make the game more fun for everyone and the plethora of classes available makes it easier to build a balanced group. There are lots of classes now that can fill the "healer" role or "thief" role without absolutely requiring that the group have a cleric and a rogue in order to be successful.


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

Can you have fun playing a party of just fighters? Sure.

Is that party going to be as capable of dealing with a variety of challenges (and even straight up fighting) as party built with a variety of specialists? Not even close.

That said, understanding the game and the math behind it means understanding what roles are mechanically useful and what are not. Things like 'Arcane Caster' and 'Healer' are really not meaningful roles. While access to certain spells can be useful, and some means of healing is necessary, neither of them are really roles in and of themselves. In combat, the roles really are just striker, controller and support (which can include healing, particularly a means of condition removal.) Making sure that a party has each of those, and that the members understand their positions makes for much more effective combats.

Out of combat are other roles, the 'face' and 'trap remover' and 'knowledges' that are important to cover in some fashion, depending somewhat on the nature of the campaign. A purely militant group focused on fighting undead might not have much need of a face, for example, while adventuring in a gygaxian dungeon might absolutely require trap removal. For the most part though these roles are going to embrace less game time, and be less critical, than the combat roles, so they should be a secondary focus. Also, usually good enough is perfectly sufficient, being able to successfully utilize diplomacy to get some answers from an unhelpful person is often important to advance a campaign, being good enough to convince that person to adopt you as his heir probably isn't necessary.

The combat roles can be fulfilled by a variety of classes, and most classes could be built for any of the roles. So just because you have a wizard in your party that doesn't tell you if you have a striker, a controller or a support character.

Basically, understanding and building a balanced party is necessary if you want to build the most effective party. Having a fighter, a wizard, a cleric and rogue is not.


Well, I recently submitted a healer to a party for a PbP game on another site, because the party lacked one, otherwise, I'd have submitted something a lot more striky or wizardy... so, yeah, I do believe in the old fashioned 'all roles must be filled' party.

Now, I don't necessarily insist on it, but if we're stymied by a locked door because there's no rogue and our wizard is a pure blaster, or if people die because we don't have a healer on site, I tend not to be happy about it.


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I would say that it depends on how good your gm is at adapting. If they run things exactly the same way every time then a balanced party is a good idea if not required. If their willing to adapt the game then everybody wins :)


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How about "neither".


I won't go far as to say a healer is wasted, but it isn't essential.
You need some way to recover hit points. Several click sticks can handle that.
You need a way to remove conditions such as blindness, paralysis, level drain, ability damage, etc... Most of the casting classes have at least some of these on their lists. That plus UMD for scrolls can be your solution for this.
You need a way to hurt the opposition. SoS casters, melee weapons, ranged weapons, summoned creatures, animal companions, eidolons, archers, blaster casters, gunslingers, etc... lots of ways to handle this.
Usually there is a need for some way to assist each other. Buff spells, protections spells, aid another, etc...
Same for face skills, information gathering, opening locks, removing traps. Most campaigns you need a way to handle the situations, but there are many different ways to do that.

So I say no, there is no need for the original 4 classes. It is a formula that works, but it isn't necessary.


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Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Short answer: It depends on your definition of "balanced party."

Long answer: If the expectation of a "balanced party" is "cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard," with each character being hyper-specialized into the roles of "dedicated healer, melee tank, skill monkey, and battlefield controller" then I'd say it's an outdated relic. If the expectation of a "balanced party" is "someone needs to be a combat medic, someone else needs to DPS, another needs to handle locks and traps, and we also need a primary arcane caster" then more of a necessary evil, because the expected roles are (IMO) too narrow (even though there's less of an emphasis on a particular class in any given role). If the expectation of a "balanced party" is "as a group we need to be able to function well in combat (both melee and ranged), be able to heal/remove status effects, manage a variety of skill checks, control the battlefield, apply buffs, and provide utility spells" then there are enough options that neither necessary evil nor outdated relic are accurate.


It is more about having the right mix of capabilities rather than having a “balanced party” (whatever that is.) If the party lacks certain capabilities, the game will become an uphill battle. Is having the right mix a necessary evil? I’d say no. It is a good idea? You betcha.


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A balanced party gives every party member the chance to shine and have their niche that they are "best" at. That's the non mechanical reason to want balanced parties. It also reduces competition for loot. My gm tends to be very by the book about whether or not a given magic item is available in a town and there are markedly fewer metropolis' that have all cheap items than you'd think.


DRD1812 wrote:
Meirril wrote:
Now that said, you really only need sufficient healers...
Can you get away with a wand of cure light wounds and a UMD check, or is that ultimately bad policy?

How high is your campaign going to go? How much does your GM want to keep people alive? How readily available is raise dead?

Intelligent monsters should (within reason) try to finish off badly injured opponents. They shouldn't try to distribute damage evenly across a group to avoid killing anyone. This usually means someone standing close to where the monsters are originating is going to take the brunt of the damage for the entire group and when you get to a decent level healing during a battle becomes very desirable. Busting out a wand of cure light wounds is a joke after about 3rd level. Sure, its fine for healing between fights but when every attack being pumped out hits for more than the CLW stick heals its just a waste of standard actions.

Someone that can cast a single target heal, plus channel to heal small amounts to the entire group is in a totally different league than someone that can pump out 1st level healing all day long. Oh, and that cleric could use the heal stick as well.

Then there are conditions. There are a lot of classes that can remove conditions...but who plays them? Cleric, Oracle, Mesmerist and Shaman are kind of focused on removing conditions. A heck of a lot of other classes can take those sorts of spells, but generally don't unless that is their party role.

Then there is Heal, which restores a lot of HP, cures stat damage, and gets rid of a ton of conditions. That is a game changer.

Anyone that says a CLW wand is good enough for healing has a really kind GM. Like care bear levels of kindness.


It's kind of funny, but I've been playing in a group that could be considered unbalanced. Out of 6, there is only one character that's dedicated to ranged attacks, and I think I'm the only other character that even has a ranged weapon. We only have two casters as well. The ranged attacker is one of the casters, and he had to stop playing for a while due to loss of internet from moving. We did have another caster at one time but he died, so the party gave all of his wands to me because I was the only one who could use them. And I'm only a partial caster anyway! I concentrate on melee. I won't get 4th level spells for another 2 levels so CLW is the only healing spell we have naturally. We had to buy a Wand of Cure Serious Wounds for me to use just in case.

And yet, there's only been 3 deaths in the months that I've been playing this game.


Do we need a balanced party? Answer: Ask your GM.

What you absolutely need is a party composition that will support everyone having fun. For some campaigns and GM's and play styles, you absolutely need all of the classic roles covered. See Meirril's recent post (the comment about CLW wands being good enough and Care Bears should be a t-shirt.) But then look at Heather 540's recent post - that campaign surely seems to be going down the Wand as Healer path. (And they've only had 3 deaths so far!) Each group might look at the other and say "You're doing it wrong." But in either case that would be wrong.

You can't answer this question in any meaningful way without reference to the table you're going to play at. It depends greatly on campaign content, GM approach and overall play style of the people at the table.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Recently we mainly play AP's.

Kingmaker we have a party who's only healer/status remover was a Paladin. As we entered the 11-12 level area it became increasingly difficult.

Jade Regent. The parties only arcane caster is a Summoner. At 8th level it has not been a problem. But I think it will become so.

Serpents Skull had no character with a full BAB. This caused increasing problems, but mainly due to the GMing style. The 3/4 BAB characters rarely had an opportunity to buff/prepare before combat.

Is it a necessity to have a balanced party? No but as you go up in levels it becomes increasingly telling.

I am strongly of the view that if a group decides on a non balanced party it is the player job to make it work, not the GM's.


PF is a game of rules, mechanics. I still try to tell my players: the only thing you HAVE to build around is the RAW, and average monster stats. In other words, I'd like PCs at level 1 to have a reasonably average or above average chance of beating a 12 AC, dealing 1/4 of 15 HP, or else overcoming a high save of +4, all while surviving a couple rounds against a +2 high attack that deals an average of 7 damage if it hits. As the monsters get tougher, try to keep up with the averages by CR.

Beyond that: you're all on your own

Will there be traps, hazards, and variant monsters in my game? Certainly. Will every NPC in the game be a villain? Not likely. As the OP points out with the door example above, there's always more than one way to skin a catoblepas.

My current party has a Ratfolk Investigator, a Half-Elf Druid (Swamp Druid archetype), a Human Warpriest, a Skinwalker (Crocodile) Bloodrager/Brawler, and a Half-Orc Barbarian. If they come up on a locked door, a talkative villain or a patch of Russet Mold in their path they are AS likely to attack en masse as they are to attempt to "defeat" the conflict in their midst through spells and skills.

There is no dedicated "healer" and in fact there's no "buffer/controller" type either. The druid's spells are mostly utility or direct combat like the 3PP spell Storm Burst. Unless there's a lot of plants around, the party is basically at the mercy of the battlefield they're presented with. Because of that, the druid and Bloodrager have a bunch of low level scrolls to grant movement that circumvents a lot of terrain.

As for healing, they have a stock of "Cure" spell scrolls, potions, and are at the tail end of a Wand of Cure Light Wounds. Also they follow the Karate Kid axiom: the best defense - no be there. In other words part of the "healing" of the group is maxing out their ACs and defensive stats as well as the aforementioned movement-granting scrolls. They also all wisely use Ranged attacks.

So IMO if you build a party that can deal with threats in a complimentary fashion, even if these methods don't conform to the classic "balanced" party, then who really cares what type of characters or powers they have.


Haldrick wrote:
I am strongly of the view that if a group decides on a non balanced party it is the player job to make it work, not the GM's.

Isn't it much easier for the GM to adapt the campaign?

DRD1812 wrote:
Don’t design for a perfectly “balanced” party. You want your players to come up with unique solutions to in-game problems, right?

Well, you could design challenges for a balanced party and throw them at inbalanced parties. That might result in the desired unique solutions, right?

At least it worked for my campaign - the players didn't have a dedicated trapspotter, just a barbarian with a single level of rogue. They had a hard time to disarm the magic trap and came up with some ideas and teamwork. Finally they got it, and it was way more interesting than "disable device X, problem solved".


Mike J wrote:
It is more about having the right mix of capabilities rather than having a “balanced party” (whatever that is.) If the party lacks certain capabilities, the game will become an uphill battle. Is having the right mix a necessary evil? I’d say no. It is a good idea? You betcha.

It's interesting to me that the concept of "balanced party" is so closely aligned with classes. If feat selection, gear, or hired NPCs can replaced the need to "play a trap guy / healer," then then idea of class-as-party-role may be a bit of a red herring.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The leeway you have in terms of party composition has gotten more generous with successive editions. I wasn't playing TTRPG's in the AD&D era, but from what I've heard the Cleric was pretty much mandatory. Today you can get by on consumables alone. The Cleric is nice to have, but that's less because it fulfills a critical niche in the party and more that it's one of the strongest classes in the game.

In my experience, party composition just isn't something I need to worry about. I can just leave my players to their own devices, and I'll get enough skills and abilities that the party can handle most situations reasonably well. The most problematic classes are probably the likes of the fighter or barbarian which can easily be one-dimensional, and a full party who is one-dimensional in the same way can be challenging to work around. Whatever areas the party is deficient in, the GM can compensate for, and it requires an extremely imbalanced party before that actually disrupts the game.


Mark Hoover 330 wrote:


As for healing, they have a stock of "Cure" spell scrolls, potions, and are at the tail end of a Wand of Cure Light Wounds. Also they follow the Karate Kid axiom: the best defense - no be there. In other words part of the "healing" of the group is maxing out their ACs and defensive stats as well as the aforementioned movement-granting scrolls. They also all wisely use Ranged attacks.

I'll just say that as you get towards the end of progression AC is going to unimportant. Lots of creatures will have special attacks that they exclusively use, or they are heavy spell casters, or they target touch, or they just have absurd bonuses to hit. At the same time the amount of damage they do makes you wish for a quick Heal after a full round of attacks.

Now if your games never continue that long, I can see why you think its fine. Mainly I play APs and while it takes a year we finish them typically ending at level 18. And from what I've learned from fighting several AP bosses, what you want are full BAB characters, or better yet you hit Touch AC. Casters need a way to pump saves and come loaded with several greater dispel magic. Whatever you do it better be a well polished trick by now because if you are going to fight them straight up its going to be frustrating.

By the way, AP bosses 'know' the PCs are coming, and usually watch them fight several of their minions. They will alter their defenses and tactics to kill the party. It isn't outside of the realm of possibility for them to have Spell Immunity targeting the party's 4 favorite spells.

Now if you live in society play...that tops out at what? 8th? 12th? Someone help me out.


DRD1812 wrote:
Mike J wrote:
It is more about having the right mix of capabilities rather than having a “balanced party” (whatever that is.) If the party lacks certain capabilities, the game will become an uphill battle. Is having the right mix a necessary evil? I’d say no. It is a good idea? You betcha.
It's interesting to me that the concept of "balanced party" is so closely aligned with classes. If feat selection, gear, or hired NPCs can replaced the need to "play a trap guy / healer," then then idea of class-as-party-role may be a bit of a red herring.

a rogue with maxed out UMI and a few wands and scrolls does not replace a proper cleric, nor does a mage with a wand of knock replace the trap guy. can be useful and make you feel that yu did not really need them for a time, but when you spring a real nasty trap or need a cure THIS ROUND and the rogue flunks his UMI... plus , there are times when you need stuff that is hard to get in wand form (say revivify or higher revival spells), and then the rogue can't do a thing for you.


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SheepishEidolon wrote:
Haldrick wrote:
I am strongly of the view that if a group decides on a non balanced party it is the player job to make it work, not the GM's.

Isn't it much easier for the GM to adapt the campaign?

No.

a) not everyone has the time, inclination and/or skill to adapt a campaign -there is a reason adventure paths are so popular.

b) if the players, as a party, made a choice to skip being able to handle certain challenges it is not the GMs job to softball them for that choice. There are consequences of choices and the group need to adapt to that, either by planning better at the start or spending resources to fill that lack during the game.


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dragonhunterq wrote:
SheepishEidolon wrote:
Haldrick wrote:
I am strongly of the view that if a group decides on a non balanced party it is the player job to make it work, not the GM's.

Isn't it much easier for the GM to adapt the campaign?

No.

a) not everyone has the time, inclination and/or skill to adapt a campaign -there is a reason adventure paths are so popular.

b) if the players, as a party, made a choice to skip being able to handle certain challenges it is not the GMs job to softball them for that choice. There are consequences of choices and the group need to adapt to that, either by planning better at the start or spending resources to fill that lack during the game.

Why not a little of both: the GM adapting and the players adapting? There’s likely no game at all if the GM ruthlessly slaughters the characters to teach the players some sort of lesson about party composition.


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I would argue that instead of a 'balanced party' what is really important is preparation. Knowing what you're going up against and what situations you'll likely be facing can give any party a fighting chance. Magic items, special equipment, and brilliant plans can go a long way, and a GM should be willing to give anything clever players come up with a shot as long as it makes sense. In a pinch and given time to do so, the players could even hire mercenaries or henchmen to compensate for abilities they lack, although as a GM I would limit this to extreme cases, like an entire party of wizards hiring some mercenaries.


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born_of_fire wrote:
dragonhunterq wrote:
SheepishEidolon wrote:
Haldrick wrote:
I am strongly of the view that if a group decides on a non balanced party it is the player job to make it work, not the GM's.

Isn't it much easier for the GM to adapt the campaign?

No.

a) not everyone has the time, inclination and/or skill to adapt a campaign -there is a reason adventure paths are so popular.

b) if the players, as a party, made a choice to skip being able to handle certain challenges it is not the GMs job to softball them for that choice. There are consequences of choices and the group need to adapt to that, either by planning better at the start or spending resources to fill that lack during the game.

Why not a little of both: the GM adapting and the players adapting? There’s likely no game at all if the GM ruthlessly slaughters the characters to teach the players some sort of lesson about party composition.

a) I did not mention, nor did I advocate, ruthlessly slaughtering anyone.

b) There is a huge difference between ruthlessly slaughtering the characters and running the game and the characters being woefully unprepared.


born_of_fire wrote:
dragonhunterq wrote:
SheepishEidolon wrote:
Haldrick wrote:
I am strongly of the view that if a group decides on a non balanced party it is the player job to make it work, not the GM's.

Isn't it much easier for the GM to adapt the campaign?

No.

a) not everyone has the time, inclination and/or skill to adapt a campaign -there is a reason adventure paths are so popular.

b) if the players, as a party, made a choice to skip being able to handle certain challenges it is not the GMs job to softball them for that choice. There are consequences of choices and the group need to adapt to that, either by planning better at the start or spending resources to fill that lack during the game.

Why not a little of both: the GM adapting and the players adapting? There’s likely no game at all if the GM ruthlessly slaughters the characters to teach the players some sort of lesson about party composition.

careful, I have a memory (back in d&d4) of a DM trying to adapt the challenge of an encounter to the party... what he unwittingly did was TPK us.


My idea of party dynamics are Face, Front Liner, Healer, ranged. As long as the party has one of those, its usually enough to get by, and SOME people/classes can manage multiple of those with one character, such as an earth kineticist.

*also as a side note* to the guy that said no defender was better than a fighter, quit the crack man, Warden blew every other defender out of the water in 4E


Meirril wrote:
Mark Hoover 330 wrote:


As for healing, they have a stock of "Cure" spell scrolls, potions, and are at the tail end of a Wand of Cure Light Wounds. Also they follow the Karate Kid axiom: the best defense - no be there. In other words part of the "healing" of the group is maxing out their ACs and defensive stats as well as the aforementioned movement-granting scrolls. They also all wisely use Ranged attacks.

I'll just say that as you get towards the end of progression AC is going to unimportant. Lots of creatures will have special attacks that they exclusively use, or they are heavy spell casters, or they target touch, or they just have absurd bonuses to hit. At the same time the amount of damage they do makes you wish for a quick Heal after a full round of attacks.

Now if your games never continue that long, I can see why you think its fine. Mainly I play APs and while it takes a year we finish them typically ending at level 18. And from what I've learned from fighting several AP bosses, what you want are full BAB characters, or better yet you hit Touch AC. Casters need a way to pump saves and come loaded with several greater dispel magic. Whatever you do it better be a well polished trick by now because if you are going to fight them straight up its going to be frustrating.

By the way, AP bosses 'know' the PCs are coming, and usually watch them fight several of their minions. They will alter their defenses and tactics to kill the party. It isn't outside of the realm of possibility for them to have Spell Immunity targeting the party's 4 favorite spells.

Now if you live in society play...that tops out at what? 8th? 12th? Someone help me out.

SO I run homebrew and haven't gotten beyond 7th so far due to scheduling and interest issues, however I think my main point was that the PCs in my parties generally try to use every means at their disposal to maintain their defenses to avoid over-reliance on healing, but then they keep a reserve of level-appropriate healing power in items for a "break glass in case of TPK" or whatever.

On a grander scale, to the point of the thread, I don't think its a necessity any longer to have a dedicated healer in your party, so much as it's important that someone be able to CAST healing spells. As I mentioned, I haven't run games past 7th but I played in one session at 16th and watched several others between 15th to 20th. It seemed like all those fights, plus what people relate here, were essentially "rocket tag" - deal as much damage to your enemy as quick as possible and put them down before they inflict massive, crippling damage back at you.

If that plus what Merril here has stated is high level play then I'm guessing a Full BAB PC with enhanced Movement types so they can get at their foes in melee, plus Improved Initiative, Haste, and that one Trait that also grants +2 to Initiative are the best "defensive" combos.


I can't even remember when a trap guy was needed in my games, be they AP or otherwise. Same for lockpicking. Both make for really uninteresting obstacles anyway and between summons, healing and some plain old brain matter, there are multiple ways around them. Disable Device checks are the most boring one.
I even have a hard time to come up with interesting ways to involve them. Either they make the check, or they don't. That's it.

What does frustrate me is that the higher Level it goes in AP's, more and more problems can only be circumvented by Magic. Invisibility, flying enemies, swarms - you either have the relevant spell (via caster or item) or you don't, otherwise you're out of luck.


The less diverse the party, the less diverse the solutions that are available to it. Can you go without a rogue or other skill class? Sure. Magic can solve lots of problems addressed by skills if you carry the spells to solve the problems. That means you are spending money on it for magic items or are not carrying combat/control/buffing spells.

The same is true of other roles to a certain extent. It is easier to go without a healer if the party bails out of combat at the first sign of trouble and has the spells or items to cover an exit.

The real question is can you go with just UMD healing. Um, sorta. The fact is that a channeled-healing, spontaneous cast healing cleric can cover a multitude of sins when things go sideways. They are not a great source of coverage for other fixing spells (paralysis, blindness, remove curse) in combat because it is guesswork about when to take them. The cleric has little advantage over UMD/scrolls for that.


Some obstacles are just bad. Inherently most traps are 1 player vs the trap. So its a boring encounter for most of the group.

Invisibility is something that players should get use to. There are methods other than see invis and glitter dust to deal with them. Lots of creatures have invisibility either as a spell like or at will ability. Sure you can just complain about it, but its better to prepare for it. You can obtain a handful of really expensive items, or you can train for blind fighting, or somehow gain the scent ability, or level UMD and carry a wand of see invis.

I can't imagine complaining about flying monsters. Sure its a huge advantage, but who doesn't expect them? Even if its lame, carry some sort of ranged attack. Even if you aren't good at it, you have something to do while you wait for someone better to take care of it.

Swarms. At low levels its difficult to deal with. Around mid levels acquire some sort of AoE attack, or a swarm bane clasp. It isn't an expensive item, and you can switch to it mid combat. I wouldn't consider it a waste of a round to go from ineffective to participating.


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dragonhunterq wrote:

a) I did not mention, nor did I advocate, ruthlessly slaughtering anyone.

b) There is a huge difference between ruthlessly slaughtering the characters and running the game and the characters being woefully unprepared.

Oh I'm sorry I didn't realize your statements that "it is not the GMs job to softball" and "there are consequences of choices and the group need to adapt to that" is you counseling for a spirit of cooperation and collaboration between the players and the GM >.>


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In my Iron Gods campaign, the party consisted of a bloodrager, fighter, gunslinger, magus, and skald. No divine caster, no full arcane caster, no rogue. Nevertheless, the party managed to either fill the roles of a balanced party or avoid needing that particular role. For example, without any low-AC, low-hp characters in the group, the party did not need a solid front line to protect the squishies behind the front line.

The gunslinger was an unusual build that gave up massive damage for battlefield control, instead. In addition, she had Disable Device skills to handle the locks and traps. Healing was difficult at 1st level, since the skald could cast Cure Light Wounds only twice a day, but they supplemented with potions of Cure Light Wounds. At 5th level, the skald could handle condition removal via Spell Kenning.

Because they did not need a front line, the party adopted a defense-oriented skirmish style that prevented the enemies from ganging up on any one member, as Meirril described. For example, at 7th level, the magus burned through spellstrike spells against some challenging enemies, taking out one a turn, but losing 3/4 of his hit points in the process. So the bloodrager stepped between him and the remaining enemies while the skald and gunslinger ran interference and the fighter kept taking down enemies. The magus boosted his magical defenses and would have switched to ranged attacks, but the party was able to handle the last enemies without him. I had an enemy assassin planning on jumping out from stealth for a death attack on the magus, but once the magus cast Mirror Image, she switched her target to the nearby bloodrager, not realizing that the semi-arcane martial had Uncanny Dodge and Improved Uncanny Dodge to foil sneak attacks.

Robots were the primary enemies, so the party made themselves adamantine weapons to slice through robotic armor plating. Smelting and mundane crafting are not roles covered in the classic balanced party, but it was very useful in this campaign. However, the adventure path threw a variety of opponents against them, such as mutant animals, incorporeal undead, alien abominations, and hostile high-tech humans. Versatility was the key to success. For example, against the hostile humans, their defense was going incognito, possible largely because they did not act like a standard adventuring party and because the bloodrager and skald had maxed out Bluff skills.


@Mathmuse
That sounds like a balanced party to me. The group was able to cover all of the roles sufficiently. Without having the traditional Player 1 covers role X, Player 2 covers role Y, etc.

Something I've noticed is that different groups have different ideas of "what" the roles are. I see the roles as being very open ended, to the point that, in theory you can cover everything with just 2 characters. I've been listing them as Tank, Medic, Damager and Skill Monkey. But the essence of tanking is just battlefield control. All that Medic really means is you have a character that can patch people up, so a character with a wand and UMD fills this role. A damager just means that the character needs to be able to eliminate enemies quickly, which doesn't have to mean killing. Skill monkey just means most skills being covered somewhere, by someone.

IMO, I think the whole trapfinding ability being required for magical traps is an un-necessary hindrance. Players would have a lot more freedom to play whatever character they want if it wasn't a thing. It seems stupid to me that the character with a +30 to disable device can't disarm the dc 10 magic trap but the rogue with +2 can.


It isn't just magic traps, its also Trapfinding. Sure, players suspect doors and chest of having traps. But after you walk down 10 empty hallways, who checks for traps in the 11th identical hallway? In my opinion Trapfinding is a major ability.

That could be a personal bias though. I expand what it finds a bit in my campaign. It goes from automatically checking for traps to also checking for anything hidden or concealed. So doors, panels, hidden treasure. Am I giving too much to rogues? Maybe. But it feels right.


Meirril wrote:

It isn't just magic traps, its also Trapfinding. Sure, players suspect doors and chest of having traps. But after you walk down 10 empty hallways, who checks for traps in the 11th identical hallway? In my opinion Trapfinding is a major ability.

That could be a personal bias though. I expand what it finds a bit in my campaign. It goes from automatically checking for traps to also checking for anything hidden or concealed. So doors, panels, hidden treasure. Am I giving too much to rogues? Maybe. But it feels right.

Trapfinding (rogue class ability) =/= Trapspotting (rogue talent)


DRD1812 wrote:
Question of the day then: Have you ever been in an “unbalanced party?” How did it go?

Yeah, I did. Wildshape Druid, Shockign Grasp Magus, blaster Sorc, plus my Summoner. Originally, also a Gunslinger.

It didn't work out toolong. Not because the party didn't succeed, but because it did too well. No battlefield controll to speak, no debuffs, and yet, there was only one fight where we struggled (a golem with high DR and SR, that I tripped with the only casting of Grease my Summoner did the whole campaign). Everything else just died way too fast to challenge us. Yeah, we sprung the air elemental trap (we did find it). We just killed the elemental. Yeah, the Magus got hit with Mummy Rot (because he won initiative that combat). Hired spellcaster in the next town, plus the Druid preparing Remove Disease for that day, removed it (Sorc was too low to cast Remove Curse, otherwise, Paragon Surge would have handled it).

DRD1812 wrote:
It's interesting to me that the concept of "balanced party" is so closely aligned with classes. If feat selection, gear, or hired NPCs can replaced the need to "play a trap guy / healer," then then idea of class-as-party-role may be a bit of a red herring.

Not really a red herring, as it's not a deliberate attempt to mislead. Rather, it's an outdated gamne view. I'm pretty sure the overwhelming majority of people who think there needs to be a dedicated healer etc. have that view because of other games - D&D, WoW, etc. Yes, D&D is a different game. Something that was true in it (often even older versions) isn't necessarily true in Pathfinder.

Somethign that's often ignored isthat many classes can fulfill multiple roles. Take my Summoner from the above mentioned campaign: Infernal Haling on the spells list, plus teleport later on, means that character can fulfill the "healer" roll to a good amount. Charisma focussed obviously helps for social interactions. Large Eidolon with Mage Armor, Barnskin and the cheap Improved Natural Armor evolution results in a frontliner that can block well, while pounce plus multiple attacks results high damage. Early access Haste allow good party support. Invisibility and Fly allow sneaking. Phantom Steed, Teleport etc. allow transportation. Wall of Fire + Lesser Rod of Dazing can controll the battlefield fairly well. Half-Elf plus Seeker trait resulted in high perception, which in PF works against all traps.
So yeah, that Summoner was: Healer, party face, tank, damage dealer, support caster, party transportation, battlefield controller, and trap finder. That's without the Summon Monster SLA!

The comic shows it pretty well - everything is a means to an end. It's always the end that counts, never the means. The goal is never to pick the lock, it's getting through the door (sometimes, with the extra challenge of leaving no signs behind, or producing no noise). It doesn't matter if that's by picking the lock, breaking the lock/door, teleporting, stone shaping the wall, or turning etheral. You don't need someone who picks locks, you need one PC that can do one of these things.

And that's the same for everything else. Killing enemies quickly, using debuffs, and using battlefield controll options are all means to the same end, as are boosting defenses and/or infight healing. You don't need all of these. Generally, a good mix is better than only having one, but lacking one or more is not problematic if the others are stronger. The goal is to incapitate the enemy without suffering to much afterwards.
You can also put it the other way around: If you feel you desperately need one, that means the party is lacking the others. If you need it means you're lacking buffs, debuffs, battlefield control options, and/or damage. Often enough, having a damage dealer/controller/supporter instead of the dedicated healer removes the necessity to have the healer in the first place.

LordKailas wrote:
Probably the most unbalanced groups I've played with were PFS games. (...) you can generally assume that no one in the group will be able to find traps.

Wait, what? You can assume that no one in a PFS party has high perception? For real?


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As far as a GM's job is concerned, I'm of the opinion it is to make things fun for everyone. That may be running a game that will work for whatever characters the players bring and adapting things to their playstyle, or it may be running a game that requires that the players adapt to it and being 'good' enough to get through it. In either case, the GM should be up front about which type of game s/he's running.


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LordKailas wrote:

@Mathmuse

That sounds like a balanced party to me. The group was able to cover all of the roles sufficiently. Without having the traditional Player 1 covers role X, Player 2 covers role Y, etc.

Yet the party was designed with no consideration for balance. DRD1812 said, "But for my money, I think that party composition is a great way for GMs to figure out what kind of campaign their players want." I already knew that the players had chosen the Iron Gods adventure path for our next campaign because two of them wanted to play with the science and technology. Hence, I named the campaign Iron Gods Among Scientists.

  • Amy created a gadgeteer. She chose dwarf as the race for the smithing and gunslinger as the class because a firearm was a gadget and the Experimental Gunsmith archetype had a gadgeteering theme.
  • John wanted to play a brainy character, but not a squishy one. He saw magus as a non-squishy wizard. And he liked the Elric of Melniboné theme of the bladebound archetype.
  • Cync wanted exotic and diplomatic for plenty of opportunity for roleplaying. She made a strix skald.
  • They recruited a classless NPC, Val Baine, as a fourth party member. They wanted to fill the heavy hitter role, so they suggested Savage Technologist barbarian. But I had already roleplayed Val as a student wizard, so I made her a homebrew Savage Spellslinger bloodrager. I wanted to play with class design concepts.
  • When I invited a newbie Rich as a belated fourth player, the others pressed Fighter on him as a good class for newbies. He wanted to win at the game.

Covering the roles came later as the party members started seeing how they could work together.


  • Amy's gunslinger's stats favored Dex and Wis skills, such as Disable Device and Perception, so she took over the lockpicking and trapfinding role. At 2nd level she obtained a technological grapple gun, the autograpnel, and figured out how to use it for battlefield control.
  • John's magus had focussed on his Intelligence rather than Strength or Dexterity, so he could not afford the -2 penalty from Spell Combat and was weak in sustained melee when his Spellstrike ran dry. He became a master of having the right spell at the right time via Spell Recall at 4th level and learned to make short, decisive strikes.
  • Cync's strix skald needed a few levels before she learned that standing-still melee was not her strength, either. At 3rd level she adopted a reach weapon and the Death from Above feat for a flying charge and attacked from the air. The party pooled their cash to buy her a wand of Cure Light Wounds for post-combat healing. At 5th level, she learned to craft her own wands. At 11th level, she learned Greater Skald's Vigor for fast healing 4 via her rage song.
  • My bloodrager NPC was a deliberate mix of barbarian, sorcerer, and gunslinger, and turned out to be a natural skirmisher when the party adopted the skirmishing combat style due to the skald's Death from Above charges and the fighter's ignorance of holding the front line. She liked support spells, such as summoning horses so that the party could ride, and support activities, such as forging armor and lying to maintain the party's cover story.
  • Rich never figured out the concept of party niche. He wanted his fighter to be able to handle any job, so he multiclassed to investigator and wanted to spend half the party's wealth on shoring up his deficiencies with magic items. The other players let him play his own way, except for vetoing his heavy spending and taking away his technological grenades, and adapted to him as a wild card.

I call this "growing a party organically." It leads to a party optimized to work together, but not necessary optimized as stand-alone characters. Since Pathfinder rewards teamwork, an organically grown party is stronger than a theoretically optimized party.


I was re-playing playing Baldur's Gate 2: SoA recently, it really gave perspective on how things have improved.

In the original release there was no single class thief, every single one was a mage-multiclass. I feel like the writers knew that they wanted traps and locks, but also that the thief was dead weight. I had one mage for a while and really felt like I need 2 so that I could cast one very specific spell more often. My cleric in the group was only there for healing, and even there most clerics/druids in the game were multiclassed.

These days I play PFS exclusively and I don't worry about having Disable Device in the group. Not having it might cost us some rewards every once in a while or might mean we have to use paladin/barbarian trapfinding (face-first), but it has never caused us to die/fail. Same with healing; I try to ensure that someone can operate a wand, because I think the difficulty assumes full healing after every encounter. I'm a firm believer that support is better than healing in the current game; why heal a wound when a misfortune of hold person can prevent that wound in the first place. We had a group recently that had no knowledge skills even, we only got full rewards by luck but it still worked.

I really think the only things required by balance now is someone to stand in the front and take a hit or two, and someone to deal hit point damage. Everything else is just bonus. And I like that flexibility.

Oh ya, Diplomacy... that is a necessity for many PFS scenarios... The new core party: fighter, cleric, thief, mage Diplomacy, Perception, Tankish, Damage?


Derklord wrote:
Wait, what? You can assume that no one in a PFS party has high perception? For real?

This was my experience in PFS games. Searching for traps often lead to finding nothing and getting hit with the traps we failed to find. I admit I've done only a handful of PFS games because I didn't enjoy them and so my experience may be atypical.


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In the tables I've played at, it's always been "play what you want". It's rarely caused issues. The players will generally adapt to cover whatever is missing from the party composition, either by steering into interesting feats/prestige classes, acquiring magic items, or even picking up a cohort or hireling. More often, they find a way to play to their strengths.


DRD1812 wrote:
Meirril wrote:
Now that said, you really only need sufficient healers...
Can you get away with a wand of cure light wounds and a UMD check, or is that ultimately bad policy?

You can absolutely get away with a CLW wand and a good UMD score. The party just has to realize they only have post-combat healing and perhaps play a bit safer.

When my group played Legacy of Fire, we had a ranger (that never cast any spells); a paladin (that also never cast any spells); a monk; and my wizard carrying the party with UMD, wands, and scrolls of everything imaginable.


The archetype of "thief, fighter, cleric, wizard" is great with new players since it's easy to dive into a predetermined and established role without worrying about whether what your playing is a good idea or not. But for a group of players with some experience, there are so many alternate classes and hybrids that it would be pretty easy to play a game without needing every archetype available. That being said balance in my mind is far better then hoping that your group of all fighters are going to survive without skill monkeys, a source of divine magic or a source of arcane magic.


Evilserran wrote:

My idea of party dynamics are Face, Front Liner, Healer, ranged. As long as the party has one of those, its usually enough to get by, and SOME people/classes can manage multiple of those with one character, such as an earth kineticist.

*also as a side note* to the guy that said no defender was better than a fighter, quit the crack man, Warden blew every other defender out of the water in 4E

I stand by my comments, having seen both in play. A fighter is simply stickier than a warden, getting the good tools out of the box. The warden has to work harder to fulfill its role.


When talking about balanced parties: What are they balanced for? Not every campaign has the same needs, even if you just restrict yourself to the (now admittedly quite large) set of Pathfinder Adventure Paths, even ignoring the one-off Mythic example of Wrath of the Righteous, and even not considering the APs that came out so recently that I haven't yet found a PbP of them to follow.

Grand Lodge

I think every party needs someone who can use a CLW wand for out of combat healing. Past that, a balanced party helps but isn't necessary.

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