We'll, there's a difference between buffing and utility casting.
There are some guides for buffing out there. For example, I've seen a guide to maximizing inspire courage. However, when you start talking about most buff spells, the amount of optimization available is pretty limited and mostly it boils down to, "do you have the spell or not?"
There is a further problem with spells like fly, feather fall, water breathing and freedom of movement which straddle the line between buffs and utility spells: they are highly situational. They are very useful if you need to melee a flying for or if you are traversing a narrow ledge along the side of the gorge of doom. But in a ten foot tall dungeon corridor, they won't see that much use. Since situations are very campaign specific, you won't find them discussed as much as things that come up all the time in nearly every campaign like reducing monsters to 0 hp.
Now if you go to non-combat utility spells, those have a further problem: modern (3.5 and later) adventure design philosophy. Read any of that and they'll talk about things like not gating the ability to continue behind a skill check or a spell. Don't assume the party will have x spell, etc. That's all for the good, but the point of most utility spells is to get past locked gates (literally in the case of knock or passwall). Sometimes they will be able to make an adventure easier (or break the adventure as some designers see it) but the closer adventures hew to that philosophy, the more likely you'll be able to get by without using out of combat utility spells (or that the writer will give you an item in case you don't have it). The role of utility caster is intentionally being written out of the game.
Heh. Not a min-max issue. He just gets eaten last.
Based on what you've provided, the only real thing he brings to the table is blundering defense. +4 AC to the allies who will do the real fighting. Just roll with it and smack down the other characters until they decide to ditch the waste of space and bring someone who can actually pull his own weight (literally given his strength score).
By the time you get down to smacking on him, remember: feint, invisibility, improved invisibility, waves of exhaustion (for him, that's no save helplessness--welcome to 0 strength), blasphemy, and then figure out the various ways to stack +18 to hit from your CR10 monsters so that 40 AC is not a big deal. Off the top of my head, good hope is +2 morale, bardsong is +2 to +3, haste is +1, blessings of fervor is +2, prayer is +1, and then you can charge for +2, higher ground for +1, knock prone for +4, and use a tactics ability to grant either outflank or volley fire for another +2 or +4, so you can get up to +13 to hit for a CR 4 4th level bard with a couple scrolls, a low CAR cavalier, and a little tactical positioning. If you're u use all of it yet u can get up to +19 in bonuses. If you need more, drop the rage spell or bring a skald along.
At level 10, 40 is a good AC but it shouldn't be unhittable--especially not if your bad guys have the option to work together.
So first, the obvious. As a monk, swashbuckler, Inquisitor, with a 40 AC and good saves, the character himself is going to be difficult to take out with attacks or with abilities that target saves. On the other hand you say, blundering defense gives his allies +4 for being adjacent to him. You can work with that. He may evade every fireball but that doesn't do anything for the guys stacking up next to him. And if they are stacking up next to him, you should be able to hit them all with area effects until they find a new strategy. When you're the last guy standing, 40 AC isn't nearly as useful as when you've got allies to actually deal damage.
Now, what else do you have to work with? His CMD is probably decent but is almost certainly not as unhittable--especially as his AC. So, trip and grapple are your friends and bullrush is nice if he's standing near a cliff. And if you can win a few grapples in a row, you can pin him, tie him up, and coup de grace him. No roll vs AC required. Other useful things: waves of exhaustion, scirroco, etc to reduce strength and Dex (lots of Dex monkey characters are only a few pounds from medium encumbrance and losing all those fancy sky high Dex bonuses to AC; 2 points from fatigue will often be enough to kill the AC bonus; 6 points from exhaustion will almost always do it). No save damage like sound burst and magic missile can add up too.
It depends what you want to do. I like archery bards who keep up with the Joneses on damage because they are not pure support characters. Support is great but you can be 90% as effective at support with only basic investment (essentially being a Bard and having the minimum charisma to cast spells). Making yourself able to function as another hitter in addition to the buffs you bring is an effective strategy. It is also a resilient strategy. Support is great as long as there is a beatstick or four to benefit from the support. But in a tough fight, you will sometimes find that it's up to your character to win or lose it and in that situation you need some of your own firepower. (The only tpk I played in as a player was exactly that scenario: two support characters in a party of five and when it came down to the support cleric vs a mook... The bad guy Mook won because without someone to support, the cleric was useless.)
You can build a Bard to use spells for offense, but I find their support spellcasting ability is better than their offensive casting ability and using it for offense depletes the reservoir of support more quickly.
Clustered shots gets a lot of love but I'm it's overrated. As an Archer, DR should not be a problem for you anyway so it's a solution in search of a problem.
Why shouldn't Dr be a problem for archers? Because archers can easily mix and match enhancents on bows and arrows to come up with the right combo. For example: +1 holy bow, a bunch of cold iron arrows, a few cold iron blunt arrows and some wierd non-core slashing arrows. Treat a mix of those arrows with ghost salts, adamantine weapon blanch, and silver weapon blanch. Now you're equipped to deal with any kind of Dr other than lawful, chaotic, evil or /-. For a good character, those DRs will only very occasionally come up. All for negligible ammo costs plus the cost of your +1 holy bow. A melee fighter in the same situation can probably beat Dr /evil, Dr /pick one material and that's it.
For reference I included proficiency for completeness, not because I think you should spend a feat on it.
Bards come with shortbows proficiency and that should be plenty.
Thinking about deadly aim, I still think its important--yes, you are a 3/4 BAB character but you can run inspire courage most of the time and later heroism and haste. There will be plenty of times that you can afford the attack penalty and will want more damage. On the other hand, arcane strike offers almost as much damage with no attack penalty. I'd get that first.
My 20 pt buy stat choice would be str 14, dex 16+2 race con 12, into 10, Wis 8, Cha 14+2 race
Feats: point blank shot, precise shot, rapid shot, arcane strike (you could get this from arcane duelist archetype), deadly aim, whatever.
Feats: bow proficiency. Point blank shot. Precise shot. Rapid shot. Deadly aim. Everything else is gravy.
Notable gravy feats include clustered shots, improved precise shot, manyshot, point blank master, weapon focus, and arcane strike.
Stats: charisma and decided you know about, but don't forget to include strength in your build. Dex gives you attack bonus as an Archer but your damage bonus comes from strength. On a 20 point but, I wouldn't drop below 14 strength.
Other notes on scenarios.
In a spur of the moment hostage situation where a bad guy (for example) uses an unconscious pc as a hostage, the bad guy will often be seriously wounded, weak, or both, making the one-shot attack a possibility even if it normally would not be practical to one-shot him from full hp. The BBEG may not try it until he's desperate and the minion is weak to begin with.
In the pre-planned hostage scenario, you have the freedom to use a villain who is not actually up to taking on the PCs--the whole point of the encounter is resolving the hostage crisis so you can make him weak enough to be one-shottable without removing the challenge of the scenario. Like in real life, the challenge is not defeating the bad guy, it's defeating the bad guy without getting the hostages killed. That is one of the scenarios where for example a 2nd or 3rd level bad guy could actually be a legit challenge for level 6+ PCs. Depending on the usual spell layouts, it might not even be a layup for 16th level PCs.
Had a browser error leave my post half finished. I think the rules do have the equipment for a reasonably satisfactory resolution.
Taking a hostage: move to appropriately vulnerable hostage, ready action to make lethal attack, say, "move and your friend gets it!"
If the PCs ignore the threat and take overtly hostile action the ready triggers and the held NPC or PC at -3 hp takes a greatsword or a slay living or whatever to the face.
If the PCs try to be subtle, they can make the appropriate skill check to avoid triggering the ready. Usually it's going to be bluff, stealth, or sleight of hand. Succeed and the bad guy doesn't notice until it's too late. (And he acts after the PC's action). Fail and the bad guy does notice and the readied action is triggered.
If the negotiations have gone on several rounds and active combat has ceased, I will drop out of combat. At that point if the PCs try to restart combat (or if they arrived at a hostage scene without being in combat) they can use their skills (usually the previously listed ones) to try and get themselves a surprise round. After the surprise round or if the bad guy wasn't fooled, the question is who was quickest on the draw so I just roll initiative and go with that. That's what initiative is for.
That PCs may have difficulty taking down a full health hostage taker in one round is not necessarily a problem. There are a lot of useful things they can do to render the hostage taker ineffective from combat manuevers to grapple, reposition, or bull rush the hostage or hostage taker out of reach of each other to spells (which can instantly kill or incapacitate the hostage taker or render the hostage immune to the attack (vanish, invisibilty, resilient sphere, dimension door, wall of force, counterspells, etc).
It's not a situation that should be common, but the rules do handle most of it in a reasonably satisfactory manner.
The bad guy can't pin a target himself and ready an attack which does preclude some classic schemes but as long as he has an accomplice or has the victim tied up, held, unconscious, etc it works fine.
It depends upon the specifics. If it is done during combat in order to secure a truce, etc, the hostage taker readies an action to attack or cast a spell on the hostage and tells the PCs to back off. For this situation I use the standard readied action rules.
There are some challenges here since hostages aren't all squishy but if it's a planned situation the standard action coup de Grace feat can help. However for the most part hostages are squishy enough (or have become squishy enough-a downed but not dead PC is a common target)
It's a trap.
After doing the math that says it takes 4 consecutive hits before it outdamages weapon specialization and 3 consecutive hits before it equals weapon specialization, ask yourself, how many opponents take three or four consecutive hits to go down. If there are very many, you're doing something wrong.
Even for characters who aren't packing a greatsword/earthbreaker/lucerne hammer/etc and power attacking for a bazillion points of damage each hit, the situations where you will deal three or more consecutive hits are few and far between. More often, you will deal two or three at most and then someone else will finish the foe off with a fireball, magic missile, or sneak attack. At the levels where you have more than three attacks per round with haste, much better feats are starting to become options. And if you are one of those characters with lots and lots of weak attacks, you are also likely to miss at least once before you hit that "four consecutive hits" point where it starts to be worthwhile.
Troop subtype/template is terrible. It punishes players for doing things that should be effective against large groups of monsters (whirlwind attack? Doesn't work. Combat Reflexes and a reach weapon? Does nothing. Great Cleave? Doesn't work either.)
You're better off using a mix of tactics:
1. Cavaliers and teamwork feats. A lot of helpful feats like Volley Fire or Outflank have pre-reqs that make it hard for NPCs to get them and work best with other feats that compete with them. The answer? Cavaliers to grant teamwork feats. That way the NPCs get them as well as the other feats they need. Also, cavaliers are ideal for small group leaders anyway.
2. Bardic inspiration. Inspire courage and don't look back. Skalds are good too. Inspiring rage and granting those one shot rage powers that are a waste for PCs but aren't bad for an NPC who will probably only live to make one attack anyway.
3. Clerical magic. Bless and prayer are big here. If prayer is too high level, put it on a scroll.
4. Arcane magic. Haste is a great force multiplier even for low level monsters. That +1 to hit stacks. Good hope, is another helpful spell. If you are homebrewing, importing mass curse of impending blades from 3.5 is a good option. And if all of those are too high level for your bad guys, you can always put them on a scroll. That bard you have in the enemy group to give them +1 can read the scrolls with his other standard actions. Greater Magic Weapon (also good for divine but at higher level) is also long enough duration that a bad guy can cast it on a few minions without being present. That's good for a lieutenant or to give 5 arrows each to ten low level minions. The same is true for Flame Arrow.
5. Situational modifiers. Get your bad guys on higher ground (+1). Have them charge (+2) and flank (another +2 or +4 with flank).
6. Nets and tanglefoot bags can be very helpful too.
7. Darkness and lighting. Just firing out of the darkness into a group of PCs lit up either by dancing lights, light spells, or their own torches will deny the PCs' dex to AC.
8. Spell like abilities. Derro are a great example of this. Even at 11th and 12th level, groups of derro can be threatening. The first 1d8 from sound burst is not big deal but when ten derro all show up and all sound burst the party, that's 10d8 no save. And sooner or later, even the low DC probably stunned someone. If lots of derro get the drop on the party, they can put a hurt on even high level PCs using the SLAs.
9. Depending upon the setting, gunslingers might be appropriate. Gunslingers rarely have trouble hitting and depending upon the tech level, the firearms might not actually be too valuable.
10. It was cheesy then and is still cheesy, but there is tradition and lore to support it in some settings. Drow frequently had magic weapons and armor that disintegrated when brought into the sunlight. That way, they could hit the PCs with +4 weapons without the PCs ending up overloaded with loot. In the right setting, you could take advantage of that tradition.
11. Offensively focused monsters. An orc barbarian 1 with a greataxe and a halfling fighter 1 with a tower shield are both CR 1/2, but the orc is going to stand up to higher level monsters much better. Starting with +4 strength on top of elite array and then getting another +4 from rage means that, if you gave him weapon focus, he'll be hitting at +8. Toss in a bard and a cleric for +1 each and have him charge into a flank and now he's swinging at +14 to hit. That's going to be relevant for a lot longer than defensively focused monsters. (Also, the defensive focus will become irrelevant as PCs get higher level. AC 23 is tough for 4th level PCs, but by the time they're 8th level, there's not too much difference between the orc's 13 and that 23).
For the most part, you probably won't want or need to use every suggestion at once. Using two or three techniques will often enable bad guys to be a threat to characters four levels higher than them. You can run an encounter of orc barbarians led by an evangelist of Gruumsch and a barbarian warchief and have it feel very different from a troop of hobgoblins marching under the direction of an experience captain (cavalier) with a drummer and standardbearer (bard and a second cavalier).
Ultimately, this is a D&D derivative and characters are supposed to eventually be awesome enough that they can take on lots of low level monsters and win handily. That's a feature, not a bug--there are other games where even the most fearsome warrior can be felled by a lucky guttersnipe with dagger she doesn't know how to use properly if that's your thing. But if you use the system well, there is a lot more room than most people appreciate where well constructed encounters using lots of 1st and 2nd level opponents can threaten mid level characters.
I agree with what others said WRT AC and would add this: A nodachi and a heavy steel shield is usually a little tough to use at the same time. RAW, it doesn't work.
To start with, I'd strongly consider switching to mithral agile breastplate from the chain shirt. That will net you two more AC and you can either stick with the shield and downgrade your weapon to a longsword or ditch the shield.
Or you could rearrange your stats and go with 18 Con, 12 Dex and fullplate which would end up giving you the same AC as the mithral breastplate at less cost and about 33 more hp at a mobility cost that may or may not matter.
Arcanist has an exploit that allows them to counterspell as an immediate action with a slot one level higher than the spell to be countered and then two greater exploits that counter the exploit's cost and then allow it to be done with a slot of the same level.
In theory, you could use those exploits with exploiter wizard specializing in abjuration (counterspell), but it's not clear that exploiter wizards gain access to greater exploits (which make the strategy much better at high levels) or how they would use it at all since it requires the expenditure of "an arcanist spell slot..." which wizards don't have. Maybe a reasonable DM would rule that a wizard can expend any prepared spell of the appropriate level in place of the spell slot, but by RAW, I don't think a wizard can actually use that exploit. Also, I don't think that the wizard actually gets significantly better at counterspelling by virtue of the abjuration (counterspell) specialization, so you might be better off just running with a non-counterspell specialization.
Overall, I think Arcanist is a very strong option for making this strategy work and for them it doesn't actually require a lot of resources, so you can also be good at other things.
Old Deadeye--Erastil's portfolio and ethos is easily extrapolated to natural law/benificient natural order which is precisely what is opposed by the great old ones.
Erastil combines the nature vs beyond nature, natural order vs primordal chaos, human vs inhuman/beyond human understanding, and good vs evil elements of the PCs vs old ones conflict.
Also while I don't know where Strange Aeons is going, Erastil's traditional suspicion of urbanization and high civilization would play into typical Lovecraftian horror genre themes such as the decadence of civilization. (Not that it's necessarily a theme of Lovecraft's himself, but in Robert E Howard's Lovecraftian moments, it is a continual theme as well as in Chambers' King in Yellow, and frequently shows up in Abraham Merrit's works as well and they all played a part in the development of early wierd fiction that we call Lovecraftian today and which appears to be the inspiration for Strange Aeons).
Combining mount powers doesn't really conflict with buffing. It's not as the additional buffs you could get by eschewing the cavalier mount are terribly consequential. (Banner doesn't stack with morale bonuses from bless or banner of the ancient kings).
In fact, in some ways it goes nicely with buffing. A level appropriate mount is a great vehicle for turning buffs into crushed enemies.
There are a number of ways that clerics can have access to arcane spells and cast them regularly, not just domain spell. They don't have full BAB but can hit harder and more accurately than 85% of full BAB builds because of things like demon domain, bardic performances, channeling, or a number of buff spells, or how about having a bane weapon like an inquisitor. There is very little that a cleric cannot do but there is a decent amount that cleric can do that others cannot. Class skills is the only weakness but frankly even this barely matters as skill usage is very variable between GMs tables, the trope of not needing trap finding or disable device because of summons is very much a real thing, etc.
All clerics is a viable party, but I don't think it is an ideal teamwork/buff monkey party.
Clerics can self-buff to hit harder than many some full BAB builds (though I doubt they can beat "85%"--my experience building NPCs is that it's next to impossible to build a buff and bash cleric who is even in the same league as a buff and bash Inquisitor or Warpriest, much less a well built fighter, barbarian, or paladin)... but if you have someone else buffing, it's really hard to make a 3/4 BAB build hit as hard as the full BAB does with those buffs. The extra Power Attack damage, extra feats, and extra attacks really add up. In a teamwork/buff monkey party, everyone is doing buffing, so A. everyone doesn't need to be able to do a full suite of self-buffs because they don't stack and someone else has part of it covered, and B. the more base power the characters have, the better those buffs work out.
And you also run into problems if you want to combine things like demon domain and good (archon), and glory (heroism) domain. More so than many parties, multiple clerics with deities cherry-picked for different domains, alt-channel abilities, archetypes, favored weapons, etc, can easily wind up incompatible.
There are a few tricks for a 4 person group:
1. As many bonuses as possible should stack. It's no use having a bard cast the heroism spell and a glory (heroism) domain cleric passing out aura of heroism.
So here's my submission:
-The Oradin provides aura of courage, lifelink, battlecry, and eventually aura of smiting
The traditional fighter, cleric, and wizard roles are all covered (or double covered), and the rogue role gets split up between the battle herald and the arcanist who should have the skill points between them to do what is needed.
I think the traditional builds involve hellknight signifier. Standard entries are probably either:
(Anti)Paladin 2/Sorcerer 6/Eldritch Knight/Hellknight
Fighter can get a bit better by taking the lore warden archetype. Get free combat expertise and some bonus skills for eschewing armor types you probably won't wear anyway.
Arcanist has the blade adept archetype that lets them steal some magus tricks at the cost of being stuck with a one-handed slashing or piercing weapon as their arcane bond. A few exploits like dimensional slide stand out too. Being able to make a single attack (especially with a reach weapon) and then dimensional slide away to ensure another AoO could be advantageous.
For weapon choices, using a two handed weapon--particularly a reach weapon--is a solid choice for a few reasons. 1. It leaves a hand available for spellcasting. 2. If you wanted to wield a one-handed weapon, you could have just been a magus. 3. Enlarge person and similar buffs combine well with reach weapons. 4. Reach weapons and the AoOs they can provide are nice
Improved Trip is a pretty solid low-mid level strategy. Lore Warden gets you one of the feats for free, it synergizes nicely with reach, and it also works well with enlarge person, true strike, ray of enfeeblement and other eldritch knight tricks. Polymorphing is another solid-looking strategy. Eldritch Knights eventually get better polymorph spells than maguses and have the BAB and feats to take advantage of the powerful forms.
Dealing with spell failure. Arcane armor training plus a mithral chain shirt is one technique. Downside is limited armor class and giving up the action economy advantage that you would otherwise get from quickened spells. Another technique is sucking it up and relying on no somatic component spells (there are a few good ones) and the still spell feat. Downside is reduced casting ability.
General role: The big question for an Eldritch Knight is, "what do you do that a magus or a full wizard/sorcerer/arcanist couldn't do better?" Since magus has combat action economy going for it and full casters have better spells, the answer will often have to be some kind of switch hitter, relying on having better spells than the magus (starting at level 6 or so, but really there won't be a big advantage until level 10+ when 4th and 5th level spells start to come on line for the eldritch knight), and better fighting ability than the full caster. It's a tough needle to thread.
If you want to go with two different weapon setups primarily for the bonus to AC, then there is no need to actually switch weapons. You can do what you want by using one-handed weapon in two hands and getting a quickdraw shield or using a one-handed weapon with a buckler. That way you can do the damage setup (one-handed weapon in two hands) or the defensive setup (one-handed weapon and shield) without significant cost in actions and without the expense of maintaining two weapons.
Both approaches have their advantages. Buckler+weapon does not cost any feats or actions and still leaves you with a free hand for lay-on hands, but you do take a -1 to hit whenever you use the weapon in two hands (and forfeit the buckler's AC bonus). Buckler plus weapon also combines well with bow/sword switch hitting if you decide that you also want to have a different combat mode available.
Weapon+quickdraw shield costs you a feat (quickdraw--though it's got a lot of uses so it's not a waste) and depending upon DM interpretation may not leave your hand available for lay on hands when you are in defensive mode (which is probably when you want lay on hands healing), but you don't take the -1 to hit in offensive mode. This style is probably inferior for strict offense/defense mode switching but combines better with reach weapons or other multiple weapon options since you are taking Quickdraw anyway.
If you want a different combat mode available, you can carry a lucerne hammer or bardiche, use it for when you want the offensive focus or until the enemy closes, then quickdraw your one-handed weapon and shield for defensive focus without losing any attacks. Alternately, if you have a decent dex, you could choose to start combats carrying a bow and quickdraw to one-handed weapon plus quickdraw shield when the enemy closed.
Either way, you want Power Attack as a feat and that's really the only requirement unless you decide to go with a reach weapon as a secondary option (in which case you will want Combat Reflexes too) or ranged attacks as a secondary option (in which case you will want Point Blank Shot and Rapid Shot and probably Deadly Aim).
If you find the other threads to be cesspits of hostility, it might be because you start out by calling the other posters liars.
It removes the issue with someone ending up with a wildly better character than someone else due to circumstances beyond their control.
Second: Point-buy isn't really more free than rolling. You're still at the mercy of the point-buy limitations. If I'm told to bring a 20-point-buy character, I can't bring a strong, intelligent and charismatic character, while also being able to take a few blows, without suffering from a MAD stat-array (which means that I'm not particularly strong, intelligent, charismatic while I'm also not able to take as many blows as I'd like). If I got...
Boohooo. Mary Sue has to stay home.
While it's true that point buy does not enable you to make a character who is perfect in every way--you'd need to be able to arbitrarily pick all 18s for that, most reasonable point buys enable you to create a functional character of any class (assuming that the class is functional to begin with--monk and rogue are often called non-functional though I think those concerns are overblown). You can be a monk, you can be a paladin, you can be a wizard, or an arcanist or a warpriest; you don't need to say, "well, I rolled one good stat and a bunch of garbage--what can I do with that?"
As for the last point--the one I presume you are "calling BS on"(AKA calling me a liar), it has been my experience across a variety of gaming groups that any time you get a bunch of people together to create characters and rolls are required, you're going to spend at least a session watching people roll, discussing what people want to play and building characters. You can choose to believe (and apparently do) that I'm a liar when I say that, but I'd bet that my experience is pretty common.
IMO, the key to switching weapons is to have the weapons serve different purposes. (The challenge of the original idea of sword and shield vs warhammer is that the weapons don't really have different tactical abilities).
For example, a reach weapon as primary plus one-handed weapon (with or without shield if you can manage the action economy) as backup is a good combo. Use the reach weapon to control area and get extra attacks in. Switch to the one-handed weapon when you want to shut someone down by getting in their face (perhaps with step-up, perhaps just with maneuvering), or someone gets in your face. Another example is bow plus one-handed or two handed weapon on a switch hitter character. Use the bow to start combats and when the enemy won't let you close. Use the melee weapon when things get into close combat.
Likewise, if you have multiple weapons, you can take a slightly different approach to weapon enhancements. In 3.5, for example, I ran a character who switched between two weapons: one was a wounding guisarme, and the other was a ghost touch, undead bane longsword. Ghost touch and undead bane are a great combo because most things that you want ghost touch for are undead. And the wounding guisarme comboed nicely with the undead bane weapon because the undead bane weapon targeted the primary group of foes who were immune to the con damaging effect of wounding. Unfortunately, Pathfinder wounding is not a very effective enhancement so the combo is no good for Pathfinder, but a paladin who has, for example, a holy evil outsider bane warhammer, and a keen, impact bardiche might be able to get some benefit out of having two different enhancements to play with.
And third: character creation can be done in advance rather than taking up table time, worrying about witnessing rolls, or anything else. If I say, "bring a 20 point buy character" I can spend a couple minutes and verify that the character is acceptable rather than having everyone roll out their stats and create characters while I watch. It also makes backup or replacement characters easy. No need to interrupt the session to create them and no worries that the stats you rolled might not fit the role that your character needs to fill.
Assuming Zone of Truth doesn't let you know if someone has succeeded or failed against it is there a series of questions you can ask that person that will reveal they succeeded?
Discern lies is a useful double check but it has the same problem in that it allows a save. Also, zone of truth has a relatively short duration, so a target who knows a little about spellcraft can talk it out and then spring a lie on you after 3 minutes/5 minutes/whenever the spell runs out if he is keeping better track than you are.
What you can do instead is ask your questions before you cast the zone of truth and when you're done with the questioning, cast zone of truth and ask, "at any point during this questioning, did you lie to me?" and "what specific answers were lies? And what was the true answer?" If you explain what you are going to do up front, the target knows that, unless they make their save, you will catch any lies that they tell... and it will probably prove to be a very unpleasant experience for them. Doing so allows you to share the burden of uncertainty (if you cast zone of truth and question, you don't know whether they made their save, but they do; in this scenario, neither of you know whether or not they will make their save). It might also give a sense motive bonus to catch lies because not knowing whether or not they will make their save will tend to make the target nervous.
I will also note that you know whether or not the target of speak with dead made their save and therefore whether they answer truthfully (and furthermore the spell compels a truthful answer if successful). A number of my characters have found that sharing this fact makes living subjects much more cooperative with interrogation. And if they're not, there are usually plenty of dead subjects around for interrogation. And for the more "gray area" characters, it's pretty easy to turn an uncooperative zone of truth subject into a cooperative speak with dead subject.
For a ranged touch attack specialist arcane character, don't forget enervation. Enervation is nice because it serves a lot of different functions and is not subject to energy resistance.
Also, look into snowball at low levels (and intensified snowball after level 5) for another damage type option.
Keep in mind that in addition to enervation, there are a few other nice debuffs that kind of fall into your lap as a ranged attack specialist wizard: ray of enfeeblement and ray of exhaustion come to mind.
I don't think it's clear whether developed regions in Golarion are developed to mid industrial revolution with magic, actually being mid-industrial revolution, or simple lack of interest/knowledge on the part of the designers. These are people who either think that "French Revolutionland" makes sense as a semi-stable state of society or don't care that it doesn't (rule of cool or whatever); I wouldn't necessarily expect everything to hang together.
In any event, whether the increased agricultural yields are from improved technique or magic, I wouldn't assume that they are automatically present in the River Kingdoms. If the PC wants it, it should be possible to build it (or not depending on how you like your settings--I for one detest "magic as technology" settings and prefer my settings to be history as portrayed in myths and legends instead).
Second, Kingmaker is kingdom building in unclaimed lands. You might alarm your neighbors with your revolutionary sentiments, but you don't have to worry about upsetting the feudal order internally because there are no nobles you don't enoble.
It's not a matter of upsetting the neighbors with revolutionary sentiments or resistance from nobles who are not personally loyal to you. The issues are still there even if neighbors aren't upset by revolutionary sentiments per se and even if the nobles were ennobled by you and are personally loyal to you. (Not that being ennobled by you necessarily makes them personally loyal to you. "What have you done for me lately?" is still a very operative sentiment).
The conflict will come from the settlers themselves. First, where did they come from? They probably didn't all come as individual nuclear families who emigrated in with uHaul Trucks to start a nice middle-class white collar job. Odds are good that that there are mixes of extended families (another word for tribe) and ad hoc groups of bandits, warbands, etc who decide to join up with the PCs new kingdom and a very few nuclear families. The problem that any scheme will run into, particularly in a chaotic River Kingdoms like setting is that all of these groups will have or form their own hierarchies separate from the proposed military hierarchy. The people all came from somewhere and will have their own loyalties, enmities, and blood feuds that they bring along with them.
If Ragnar the fearless and his sons and servants and second cousins move into the kingdom, they are still loyal to Ragnar the fearless first. If you make Ragnar the baron of land grant 1234 and ask him to provide 3 longships worth of men equipped for war whenever you ask, things will work just fine. On the other hand, if you say that his sons Ragnar Ragnarrson, Snorri, and Wulf all have to join the army and report to Durin the random dwarf from Magnanimar who you just happened to make a sergeant, they're still going to retain their loyalty to the clan of Ragnar the fearless first and odds are good that Snorri and Wulf are going to follow Ragnar Ragnarrson's orders rather than Durin's. The usual solutions are to either make sure that each unit is so diverse that no one clan or tribe has a large enough presence that the divided loyalties can undermine the chain of command or to align the the military chain of command with the tribal/clan authority structure (ie Ragnarr Ragnarrson is the sergeant because he is the clan's heir, regardless of ability or inclination), but the former solution is not often practical (not even in modern tribal societies with modern population densities) and the people involved usually resist it because they would rather serve with their brothers, cousins, and tribesmen rather than with strangers. (And with good reason, in a chaotic land such as the River Kingdoms, there may well be a lot of blood feuds that make mixing tribes/groups a risky proposition--putting Ragnar's sons in a unit with relatives of the guy Ragnar blinded for assaulting his daughter is asking for revenge killings). And the latter solution is basically adapting feudalism.
So a modern army isn't necessarily impossible to achieve in Golarion.
No, but it's a good deal more work than simply saying, "we'll pass a law and then we'll have it." You need to create economic and social structures that can support a modern army before you can have a modern army, and those conditions don't seem to exist in the River Kingdoms unless you create them. That was my main point--well, that and "yeah, this is the River Kingdoms; they all have weapons and know how to use them already."
A lot will depend upon your DM and setting but the lore I have seen on the River Kingdoms doesn't make it seem like a very lawful place. The idea of an army as distinct from the number of military age males in the population is peculiar to a the modern (post-enlightenment) era with a couple ancient examples (most notably late Republican and Imperial Rome). In contrast, throughout most of history, the army was what you called all the fighting men of the kingdom, all the free citizens of the city state, or all the fighting age men of the tribe when they got together with their weapons.
When the Athenians called out their army, it meant that all the Athenians got their breastplates, shields, helmets and spears (or their horses etc for equestrians, etc) and lined up in a phalanx. When King Harold called out his army to meet William the conqueror, it was all the men he could get on short notice, not a specific group of people distinct from the general population of the Saxons. When the kings of judges of ancient Israel called up the army, that likewise meant that everyone got their weapons and headed out. When Ivar the Boneless or Hrolf Kraki called out the "armies" of the Danes, that just meant that the Danes left their farmsteads in big groups prepared for big battles rather than in small groups of longships going "viking."
What the PC wants to do may well be a category error--or at least may involve far more social and strategic change than the player and DM may realize. If the PC wants everyone in the kingdom to have weapons and to know how to use them, that is the default state for most ancient and medieval societies: having weapons and knowing how to use them is the mark of a free man. On the other hand, if the PC wants to implement something along the lines of Cromwell's New Model Army or Frederick the Great's Prussian army combined with universal conscription along the lines of a 19th-early 20th century imperial power, then there are a whole horde of economic and social changes involved.
In fact, it might not work at all in a pre-agricultural revolution society. Most such societies could simply not afford to feed everyone if every man (let alone every man and woman) between 18 and 20 was in training and garrison duty and not able to plant and harvest--and even less so if you consider that those 18-20 year olds would need a large corps of NCOs and officers to train and command them and a large train of functionaries to run the organization that supplies and feeds them. Ancient and medieval agricultural techniques required over 90% of the population in full time food production in order to feed themselves.
The Spartans are a good example of this. The Spartan society could only function the way that it did--with all Spartan men being full time warriors with no other trade--because of the helot slaves who vastly outnumbered them. If it weren't for the helots, they would have to have been like the Boetians or the Athenians who they mocked as farmers and shopkeepers or they would have starved.
The social aspect should not be ignored either. A modern military hierarchy separate from the social and tribal hierarchies doesn't even work throughout the modern world. Implementing that kind of a structure (which I think is assumed in the idea of universal conscription into an "army") would be expected to run into opposition from tribal and feudal leaders as well a subversion from wealthy tradesmen. There is a reason that pre-modern societies did not have modern armies and that attempts to implement modern army structures fail in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where societies still function along pre-modern tribal structures.
So, I'd ask the player what he wants. If he just wants everyone to have weapons and know how to use them, I'd say, "they already do. This is the River Kingdoms. The worda for people who don't have weapons and know how to use them are 'dead' or 'enslaved.'" On the other hand, if he wants to create a modern army, he will need to create a modern society with modern agricultural technology and enough social stability in order for it to work. If you haven't emulated Alfred the Great or Hrolf Kraki and pacified your kingdom so that a 16 year old girl can walk by herself from one end of the kingdom to the other carrying a bag of gold without something bad happened, then it's too early to even start. And I suspect that the adventure path will be over before any PC king would be able to make that boast.
Basilisk eggs are pretty close to the definition of an item with a very limited market.
Griffin eggs are much closer to a widely marketable commodity. They're expensive, griffins are difficult to train when you hatch them and expensive to feed when you've trained them but they make an impressive mount with useful abilities that most mounted warriors would be able to take advantage of.
Basilisks, on the other hand, are not really useful as mounts and are far more dangerous to their handlers (unless perhaps you are selling them to grimlocks). If you want a basilisk, it is probably because you want to guard a vault somewhere--and you hardly ever need to access the vault. Or maybe because you like making statues out of people. Now, if you do want something to fill that purpose, basilisks are very good at it, but most people--even most people with money--don't need something to fill those purposes. Consequently, the challenge of selling a basilisk egg is going to be finding someone who wants it. If you do find someone who wants it, you can probably name your own price so anywhere between 3500gp and 10,000gp is probably fine.
But finding someone who wants it should be a challenge. Consider the contrast. If you were giving them away, most wealthy warriors would probably be interested in the griffin eggs. That's why they're expensive: because lots of people want them and they're hard to get. On the other hand, even if you were giving them away, most people would not want the basilisk eggs.
Arrogant character being humbled is a fairly common story arc.
Here are a few possibilities:
A. Taming of the Shrew. Other character (preferably in a position of authority) is an even bigger and more ostentatious arrogant ass at times that are inconvenient for the character.
B. Son of the Black Sword.
Character observes an "inferior" who displays superior virtue to the supposedly superior people. Character later learns that he is actually one of those "inferiors" by birth. Either one could be adopted to this situation.
In the first scenario, it is generally stronger if there is NPC contrast both ways: both the "inferior" displaying unexpected virtue as well as the "superior" displaying vice or failing to display the expected virtue
In the second scenario, the character could discover that her parents are not really nobles--for example that she is adopted (perhaps the daughter of a servant who was adopted when the servant sacrificed himself/herself for her adopted parents) or that her mother fooled around. It's probably best to avoid "really a half-elf, tiefling, or changeling" since doing that would mess with the mechanics of the character
C. Empire Strikes Back. Humbled by failure--Luke learns that he is not ready when he goes to Bespin to rescue his friends only to fail, lose Han to carbonite, and discover that he is the reason they were in danger in the first place.
The only requirement is that the character either herself or someone she respects and admires takes on a task that they should expect to succeed at and fails dramatically--possibly due to underestimating the opposition or overestimating her own ability. However in the case you are looking at, underestimating the opposition is the most likely scenario. "Orcish rabble. We have nothing to fear from such."
"Support/buffing caster" is a role that casters can take but it isn't really a full time role. You need to have something else in your repertoire.
Once you take Improved Initiative, Toughness, Encouraging Spell, Extend Spell, etc and have your primary role down, it's time to expand your abilities so that you can take on secondary roles. Since Support/buffing caster is so light on requirements, you might take feats that enable you to step into other roles as necessary/convenient.
Spell Focus Conjuration/Augment Summoning/Sacred Summons lets you get into the summoning game and synergizes nicely with buffing/support since it gives you more minions to support/buff.
Extra Channel/Quick Channel/Selective Channel/deity specific channel feats is another nice secondary role option and some deity specific channel feats (like Milani's Beacon of Hope) will let you use channeling to do your support/buffing as well.
Spell Penetration/Greater Spell Penetration and spell focus/greater spell focus can let you get into the debuffing/save or suck game if you feel like it.
If you have the stats for it, Power Attack will make melee combat a much more effective option and Point Blank Shot/Rapid Shot/Precise Shot/Deadly Aim can open up ranged combat as a good option.
It's a little unclear if tactician actually makes noise, but it still may work well with the stealth synergy feat. The hardest thing about stealthing a whole party is that with enough players, someone is bound to roll low. And with stealth synergy everyone is all but guaranteed to roll high.
Limited use due to the duration, but definitely useful. My last game session, my players failed to sneak up on a hobgoblin fortification precisely because two or three members rolled very low. They didn't need to roll high--they just couldn't afford to completely botch it. And they completely botched it.
That's a capability that most parties won't have without tactician. Also, for a party where everyone is already good at stealth, it will almost guarantee mass surprise. Good for PCs. Great for NPCs. (Now I need to scheme an encounter with NPCs who use cavalier granted Stealth Synergy on my players).
Tactician is a somewhat awkward ability that is especially challenging for a PC to use effectively.
Here are the challenges I see with it:
It is actually much easier for tactician to be powerful on an NPC.
For PCs, some of those challenges can be answered too:
So, it sounds like you have a pretty bog-standard party with no special optimization but no glaring weaknesses other than the lack of a trap specialist (which isn't really much of a weakness).
That said, they do have some weaknesses which you should be exploiting whenever the encounter allows (which should be frequently).
You can get a lot of orc warriors in a level appropriate encounter.
Now, let's say you do the latter option. We'll give the orcs a skald and some kind of savage cavalier to lead them. The savage cavalier has precise strike as his teamwork feat, so the skald will inspire rage in all of the warriors while the cavalier grants them all Precise Strike and charges in to meet them.
You'll lose a few to burning hands--but probably only one or two. sorcerer will probably cast gravity bow on his first turn and then be surrounded by orc warriors and will have to switch to his sword which will take out a raging orc less than half the time and that's when he hits which will only be about half the time. Three orcs will drop him before he kills more than one. The barbarian will probably kill one orc per round but he'll take damage and when the orc "minions" have finished off his allies, he will be surrounded and finished off.
Now if you want to roll with other kinds of creatures, hobgoblins can be even nastier. There, you have an excuse to run a luring cavalier sergeant and give your hobgoblin minions volley fire, tanglefoot bags, nets, and other fun things--maybe even have a couple hobgoblins on anti-spellcaster duty where they ready actions to disrupt spellcasting. A group of hobgoblin warriors with Shield Wall and good armor should be able to hold the barbarian off of the hobgoblin archers for several rounds (Chainmail, heavy steel shield, and shield wall=AC 20 base--probably 22 with hobgoblin dex). But you could also run them with reach weapons and tanglefoot bags. Stick the barbarian in place then smash him with your lucerne hammers.
That's just one way of making a nasty encounter. There are lots of other ways. But the principles will usually be the same for running the encounters.
A. Don't play their game. Don't throw all of your melee troops at the barbarian and leave the other characters unmolested. Get in their faces, exploit their low ACs and mediocre hit points and force difficult concentration checks to cast spells.
Don't let them do the 5' step dance. Bad guys with Step Up will stop that cold for them. Flank them and there is no 5' step that avoids all AoOs. And you should be flanking whenever possible anyway. (And it is usually possible).
B. Don't run one monster encounters. Those are generally dull encounters anyway, but they play to the party's strengths. The barbarian can take full advantage of his high single-target damage output (which is wasted on weak foes--who cares if you hit a 6 hp hobgoblin for 15 hp. He's no more down than if you'd hit him for 7) while letting the wizard and wannabe arcane archer focus fire from positions of safety while the life oracle keeps the barbarian from going down.
C. Take advantage of terrain. Goblins should hide behind boulders and in bushes. Kobolds should hide behind pit traps (and if the barbarian falls into the pit trap, then your kobolds can swarm the back ranks while he climbs out).
D. Synergize. You'll notice that I led the orcs with a skald and a cavalier rather than a barbarian. A barbarian is a tough combatant but the skald and cavalier make all 8-12 of the other orcs better. And they're no slouches themselves. I'd rather have an extra +1 to hit and +4.5 damage on every one of my 8-12 minions than an extra +1 to hit and +2 damage on my leader.
E. Let encounters develop. All the bad guys don't need to be on the board at once. If the PCs see two orc sentries in the cave entrance and charge up and take them then take the right passage, orcs can come from the left passage to take them from behind. (There may be orcs in front too). Using reactive foes can make more challenging encounters but it also makes for more interesting ones. In this case, it also emphasizes a weakness of the party: the barbarian can only hold one area of the battlefield so if multiple groups of foes converge on the party at different times, he won't be able to interpose himself between all of them and the squishies.
F. Sometimes use status effects. I previously mentioned tanglefooting the barbarian. That's only the start. Ray of enfeeblement, frostbite, ray of exhaustion, create pit, glitterdust, blindness/deafness can all keep the characters from doing what they want. The bulk of the party's single target damage comes from the barbarian. If he gets hit with ray of enfeeblement for four points of strength (a mediocre roll on a failed save or a good roll on a successful save), and then fatigued or exhausted with ray of exhaustion, the party is going to have trouble dropping any opponents. Entangled, exhausted, and enfeebled, that would be -2 to hit and -8 to -10 to effective strength. Even raging, he wouldn't be a threat.
Here's something I found to be effective: rather than focusing on rumors of the "1-5 Suzie's been sleeping around; 6-10 You can buy poison at the Rat's Tail Tavern, 11-14 Critias is looking to hire some caravan guards" variety, add details into your campaign so that your early adventures foreshadow later developments.
For example in my Red Hand of Doom adaptation, the main adventure plot is that the bad guys united all the hobgoblin and goblin tribes in the mountains along with a bunch of dragons and are marching on Sterich--or will be when the PCs reach 5th level or so.
So, I started with a few things. Many more hippogriffs than usual came down from the mountains. (They were driven out of their hunting grounds by the dragons, manticores, and wyverns, etc that have joined the Red Hand). Now the towns of the vale have trouble with hippogriffs raiding their herds and flocks so the local count institutes a bounty and calls for a hunt.
The PCs also run across a manticore during the hunt. The manticore (and some of the hippogriffs) has scarring from electricity from a run-in with the biggest dragon who is a blue. They also run across some hogboblins. The villains didn't just convince all the tribes to join them--they conquered some--so these hobgoblins are from a defeated tribe and are fleeing into the vale from the victorious Red Hand. I took care to describe their boots as worn out and their clothing as threadbare and to note that they didn't have any rations in their gear after the PCs defeated them. By this point, a couple players had speculated that something must have driven the hippogriffs and manticore out of the mountains. What was it?
The PCs then decided to explore up into the mountains which is the direction that the Red Hand was coming from. They found a lot of trouble, ran across another band of goblins from the defeated tribe, found signs of a battle where the defeated tribe was driven into the forest, and, on their way back, saw Red Hand century on patrol as well as some old shrines in the forest that the goblin refugees had begun using again. By that point, the PCs have figured out that someone in the mountains is unifying the tribes and has driven the losing tribes out of the mountains.
Then the PCs ran across a couple more adventures and the remnant of the goblin tribe that had been sheltering in the forest attacked the vale and was defeated. I gave them a few rumors on that but in order: the Count's army had marched out west on short notice. There had been a big battle at Drellin's Ferry. The baron of Drellin's Ferry was killed. They defeated the goblins etc. The first rumors were people who saw the army march. Later rumors came from traders who were coming from further up the road. Then people who saw the army marching back. Etc.
Then when the PCs went on patrol, they found a spot where the Red Hand ambusher's could have crossed the river and when they crossed they found their camp site. And asking in the next town, they heard a local militiaman had seen a group camped across the river (where the PCs found the campsite). Somehow my players didn't put two and two together at that point and figure out there was an enemy patrol on their side of the river, but it didn't come as a shock to them when they were ambushed.
Shameless plug for my campaign journal:
If you wanted to implement something like that, you might have the PCs come across some empty graves (because people are digging up bodies for the necromancer) early on. Then maybe they are hired to investigate the theft of a shipment of black onyx stones. When they break up the ring of thieves, they discover that the fence who's buying all the onyx also offered a bounty for dead bodies. They hear a rumor that XYZ happened--relating to whatever the necromancer is doing (if he's using the undead to build a fortress, maybe "That's strange allright, but not as strange as what I heard in Abbotsford. Supposedly, someone is building a tower out at Lizard Rock, but I've never seen any workers and no-one comes to town for supplies." Later, (at the "they start finding evidence" stage, they find a grave that looks like it was dug up from the inside. Then they run across a ghoul or wight or something that got away. Now they know there are undead in the world but not where they came from or who made them.
The details will vary a lot depending upon why the necromancer or evil priest is trying to create undead? Does he want an army who he doesn't need to convince (or pay) to fight for him? Does he want slaves who won't rebel and that he doesn't have to feed? You'd want to foreshadow those two necromancers very differently.
I'm a fan of the Lucerne Hammer, Glaive-Guisarme, Bardiche (for that weapon-training double-dip), and the longspear (for people with simple weapons.
But I suppose if you have to spend a feat to get proficiency with a reach weapon then you might as well go for Fauchard and if you want finesse, Elven Branch Spear is the way to go.
I've played characters with reach weapons for years. It has come up exactly once for one of my PCs. Pretty worthless for player characters.
On the other hand, back in the 3.5 days, with hold the line (feat: granted an AoO vs charging foes who enter your threatened area) and steadfast boots (magic item that made every attack count as bracing--the conservative interpretation) and a longspear, I remember an NPC putting a few characters down when they didn't see that coming.
In Pathfinder, you might be able to make some good use of Brace with Intercept Charge. (Ready an action to brace--perhaps with the polearm trick lowest iterative-- wait till someone charges an ally--probably not the guy with the readied polearm--then move into the charge path, take the readied action for double damage, and take the AoO; three attacks worth of damage and a retargeted charge by virtue of intercept charge).
Still, it would be a much more interesting property if it did one of the two things suggested:
Normal games: Position enemies where their actions and roles would properly place them. For example, watchmen at the top of a tower will probably be standing behind or between battlements looking out over the terrain, a group of gnolls who just finished a successful hunt may well be circled around the prey's corpse while the pack leader eats first, and a group of hobgoblins on patrol will probably be spread out in a rational marching order that maximizes their chance of spotting enemies, minimizes their chance of being spotted, gives the point hobgoblin time to notify the rest of the patrol of an ambush beforethey stumble into the kill zone, protects their spellcasters (if any), minimizes the number of hobgoblins able to be gibbed with a fireball or lightning bolt, and still enables them to close ranks quickly to deal with melee threats. (Which is to say that unless there are specific considerations such as poor or exceptional leadership, significant losses, etc, their patrol formation should correspond to the regular military doctrines of the hobgoblin polity which would be shaped by the same concerns that dictate player character marching orders).
PFS: Position enemies exactly where the adventure says they are. If the adventure does not specify monster locations on the map, place them based on where the text says they are. If the PCs' actions have departed enough from the adventure's assumptions that the written/map locations do not make sense revert to "normal game" advice.(For example, the adventure assumes that the PCs defeat the river pirates in encounter 1--that didn't happen; the PCs were defeated, their boat was captured along with one of their members, and nearly all the bad guys got away; encounter 2 river pirate lair will proceed significantly differently than it is written in the adventure).
Might be a nice trick for a fighter(Lore Warden)/wizard/Eldritch Knight build that takes the trip feats.
For Toppling Spell, you don't really need the same kind of CMD bonus that you do in order to make the Improved Trip line of feats work because it is a lower resource investment, can hit multiple targets, and deals damage up front (and therefore has lower opportunity cost).
Consider the following comparison:
If the fighter tries to trip his foe and fails, that's probably his whole action for the round. Total fail.
If the wizard casts a toppling magic missile at the enemy, he deals 3d4+3 damage even if he fails to trip the enemy (and could potentially disrupt spellcasting too). His action is not a total waste even if he doesn't get the trip.
Now, consider another case for the wizard. He targets his magic missiles to hit three monsters. He won't deal much damage, but his chance of tripping at least one of them is pretty good--even if he only has a 40% chance tripping any particular one of them, he ends up with an 80% chance to trip at least one. That renders the spell--which is not one of his top-shelf spells-- with the following matrix of results:
Now, if he leverages the spell a bit more--for instance casting it as a readied action, he can add another potential success condition for disrupting the spell. His odds of total success are not very good, but the odds of accomplishing something worthwhile are quite good.
If we assume that he is really specialized in magic missile, he might tack dazing spell onto it as well (4th level spell with magical lineage, so it had better be worthwhile). Now, he adds another layer of success conditions and the odds of incapacitating or inconveniencing several targets are actually pretty good since he probably has better than even odds of landing either the trip or the daze. Of course, dazing spell is widely thought to be broken, but the example illustrates how toppling spell functions differently than the trip line of feats such that you do not need the same kind of odds of success for it to be worthwhile.
Chess Pwn wrote:
The issue is magic weapons. That's a specialization choice that you'll either need to make or figure out how to work around not having a magic weapon.
It's not actually as much of an issue as you might think. Say you're level 6, maybe you blew half your gold on a single +2 weapon. Or you have two +1 weapons and a little extra cash for something else. Not a problem. Or say you're 11th level and you have a +1 holy lucerne hammer and a +1 ghost touch, undead bane longsword rather than having a single +4 lucerne hammer. Is that going to hurt your effectiveness? Maybe a little bit in some situations, but if you run into ghosts or dread wraiths, you're actually better off.
If your party has a habit of getting non-enhancement bonus powers on their weapons and then buffing weapons with greater magic weapon to make up the enhancement bonus difference, you may not even notice the difference.
Also, if your DM does not tailor treasure to the party, you can use the +1 weapon whether it is a longspear, a morning star, a greatsword, or a lance but the guy who specialized in Khopesh is waiting for a bad guy with a magic Khopesh.
There are several ways to build such a character. Exactly how you do so will depend upon the route you take.
From what I read, I think you want:
The easiest single-class way to address the things you want is cavalier. As a human cavalier, you would get 5 skill points per level, even with only 10 Int and no favored class skill points. You also get a number of useful class skills such as bluff, diplomacy, and several knowledge skills. Furthermore, unlike the fighter, your combat abilities do not necessarily encourage you to focus on one weapon type. It's perfectly fine to use a lance when mounted, a lucerne hammer when non-mounted, a bow or pistol at range, and a sword when enemies close with you. All you miss out on is weapon focus and there are plenty of good feats (bodyguard, combat reflexes, quickdraw, step up (to step up and strike), saving shield, etc). You also get some leadership abilities with Tactician and Banner.
Another single-class method would be to just go straight bard as others have suggested. (Arcane Duelist gives you medium armor eventually and some improved fighting skills). Carry a shortbow and a longsword. Make your performance oratory as others have suggested. You have all sorts of knowledge and social skills and more extensive leadership abilities than the cavalier though you do get magic which may not be what you want.
If you are willing to go with a more complex build, battle herald offers a lot of what you want. Full base attack. Expanded leadership abilities from cavalier and inspiration from bard/exemplar brawler/sensei monk/evangelist cleric and magic doesn't advance with your battle herald levels so if you're not interested in magic you can either avoid it entirely (exemplar brawler/sensei monk) or have very limited magical abilities.
If you don't like battle herald and want to get more out of charisma than most cavaliers offer, you could take order of the Lion cavalier or multiclass for a couple levels of paladin.
Now, if you do any of these options, will you be as good at dealing damage in your preferred combat style as a weapon master fighter with all the specialization tricks? Probably not but you'll be close when you are challenging an opponent (or maybe even ahead if you go for something like an order of the flame daring champion cavalier) and if you go for one of the teambuilder options like battle herald, you'll probably be pretty close to where said weapon master would be if you weren't buffing him at the same time as you buff yourself. That's a pretty good place to be.
A couple other possibilities:
1. Hunter. I recently played the PFS pregen hunter at level 7 in a 7-10 PCS game and was very pleasantly surprised. Very fun class and a very solid character. Hunters make great archers and have spells, a companion, and teamwork feats to make it more interesting.
2. I'll stick up for regular bards as archers here. Arrowsong minstrel is good, but if you want the regular bard features like versatile performance, etc, it's actually not all that hard to get the feats you want. If you go with human as your race: level 1: Point Blank and precise shot. Level 3: Rapid Shot. Level 5: Deadly Aim or Arcane Strike. Level 7. Whichever you didn't pick at level 5. Level 9. Clustered Shots or Lingering Performance or manyshot or whatever.
If you want, you can take arcane duelist to get arcane strike as a bonus feat. Either way, you have the basic three feats (point blank shot, precise shot, rapid shot) by level 3 and can have some of the most useful optional ones by level 7. That's pretty good. Your inspiration will apply to all your attacks which will help your personal damage output as well as your party, and you have lots of options when it comes to using your spells as combat buffs (haste), attack options, or focusing on swift action spells (gallant inspiration, etc) and prebuffs (heroism, etc) and relying on bardic performance and full attacks in combat.
Crowe has AC 18 but he is a bloodrager and barbarians traditionally have lower AC which they make up for with more hit points. Crowe can also use some of his spells. If he uses shield and protection from evil his AC jumps to a respectable 24. He also has mirror image as an option for non-AC defenses.
Adowyn's wolf Leryn has a poor AC to start with at 19 but she has the equipment to easily boost it to a pretty good number at 27. (Potion of mage armor + barkskin).
Oloch's AC of 21 is unimpressive but like the others, that is misleading. Shield of faith will boost it to a respectable 24 (swift action with fervor) or he can use sacred armor to boost it to 22 (25 with shield of faith) and he has dazzling display to reduce enemy attack bonuses and deadly juggernaut which offers the option of DR.
Zadim's AC of 20 is a significant weakness so if you are playing him, you have to realize he's not a tank, but is better suited to moving through enemy lines and slaughtering spellcasters, etc with step up and strike, etc.
Jirielle's AC of 26 is pretty respectable right off the bat and she has opportune parry and riposte, dodging panache, menacing swordplay, and targeted strike which offer additional defensive options.
Kess's AC of 21 is a weakness but she has a number of tricks that can mitigate it whether it is using martial flexibility to gain dodge or combat expertise or improved trip or grappling foes (like she is set up for by default). Limiting her opponents attack options is also an effective form of defense.
Hakon has some defensive problems at level 7 with an AC of 19 but he does have mirror image and could use spell kenning for displacement if he needs to.
Of all those front line characters, I would only characterize Zadim and Hakon as having serious defensive limitations.
There's no reason that assistance has to be all you bring to the table. Take an order of the dragon cavalier with swift aid and bodyguard, for example. You pass out aid other like candy, but that doesn't stop you from challenging monsters and beating them senseless.
Or take my Cav 1/Bard 4/Battle Herald for example. He brings nearly full bardic inspiration to the table, some social skills, and (increasingly) minor magic, can hand out teamwork feats, and has battle herald buffing as well. And he can stand up front in fullplate and keep monsters off his party while crushing their skulls with his Lucerne hammer and 19 strength.
There are lots of characters that can make other players better in combat without making much of a sacrifice in their personal combat potential.
I'd recommend one of them. Not only do you not have a problem if you show up at a table and there is another team player build there, if the party is having a rough battle and it's up to you to save the day, you have a good shot at saving the day--unlike the "sing and disappear" style bard who just rolls over and says, "TPK happens."
Wow. Didn't know that. You find new changes from 3.5 all the time. I guess sound burst would be the go-to method for a low-level cleric then. Make the fort save or lose the spell to stun. If you make the fort save, you still need to make a concentration check for damage or lose the spell.
Let's have a look at the probabilities:
Let's run with the 75% hit rate and assume the third attack is a haste attack, so the probability for hits runs 75%/75%/50%.
At least one crit is 1-((.7+.25*.3)^2*(.7+.5*.3))= 48.95% (up from 27.14% if you don't have improved crit)
At least two hits is pretty likely .75*.75*.5 (hit hit hit)+.75*.25*.5 (hit miss hit)+.25*.75*.5 (miss hit, hit)+.75*.75*.5 (hit hit miss) = 75%.
If you're talking full iteratives, it's 75%/50%/25% and the odds of at least one confirmed critical with 15-20 range are 26.3% while the odds of at least two hits over a full attack are 50%.
Obviously, it's going to be better to have improved critical than to not have improved critical, but you usually have to take Improved Critical or something else and if you're in a situation where a little more base damage improves your expected hits to kill figure from two to one or from three to two, I expect that makes more of a difference to your decision tree than improved critical. If you need one hit, it's almost guaranteed. Two hits is likely but a gamble. Three hits (including crits) is not terribly likely but you could get lucky. Improving your odds of getting three (effective) hits does not impact the tactical situation as much as changing the math so that you only need two hits instead of three.
This is the same reason that Power Attack may be more or less combat effective than average damage numbers indicate.
Either way, my main point is that it is important to realize the limitations of average damage calculations: they are indicators of combat effectiveness, but can be misleading in certain comparisons--especially when comparing the most advantageous ratio of attack bonus to damage or the value of extended critical ranges and multipliers.
It's 42.8% if you do not have improved crit and goes 36.8% if you do have the expanded crit range. So the odds getting two hits worth of damage on a full iterative attack are about 57% without improved crit and 63% with improved crit.
Again, it's obviously better to have improved crit than not to have it, but anything that changes the math so that you need one hit rather than two is likely a much bigger deal since you have a 90.6% chance of scoring at least one hit's worth of damage over those three attacks. If you can get there with -3 to hit from Power Attack, that gives you a 76.6% chance of getting the damage you need.
Ready to cast Wall of Force in front of the sorcerer when he casts fireball. Now his fireball blows up on him and his party as soon as it his the force wall. Laugh at him when he can't make a save against his own DC (don't actually do that).
I think you mean to say, "don't actually do that out of character." Have the BBEG, laugh at him in character instead. It's totally different.
Enemies with readied actions to disrupt spells.
A 3rd level cleric with a readied action to cast silence on the sorcerer's area when he begins casting a spell. Sound burst works too but isn't as good.
A low level wizard with readied actions to magic missile (or ear piercing scream if the sorcerer uses Shield regularly) the sorcerer when he begins casting a spell. Use a wand with higher caster level (as long as there is no save or it still does good damage on a failed save) to give him more punch. A scroll of ice storm is also pretty nice for this.
An archer with readied actions to disrupt the sorcerer's spell with an arrow to the throat. Bonus points if it's a human bane(or whatever the PCs' race is) arrow.
An arcanist with the arcana that lets them counterspell as an immediate action. No matter how many metamagics are layered on top of it, it's still fireball and is counterspelled just like any other 3rd level fireball spell.
An evil altar in the location that is unhallowed and spell immunity: Fireball is tied to the unhallow for the bad guys. Note that this would also let the bad guys fireball the PCs without worrying about friendly fire.