Here is my Hell's Rebels Dawnflower Dervish (note that we're using Background Skills). I make no claims about her being thoroughly optimized, but she's performed well so far (currently 4th lvl). Halfling is the optimal race IMHO.
Traits: natural born leader (campaign), resilient (optionally replace with blade of mercy)
EDIT: Persuasive is a bonus feat from the rebellion rules (also one extra skill point).
Shaman is a very flexible class, so you have lots of options. With that particular party composition, I would favor a strength build over a pure caster build. The Battle spirit (either main or wandering) is a good choice for a high strength shaman. The human and half-orc favored class bonus is quite good, so consider those races.
One option would be a high strength human or half-orc Speaker for the Past, with Battle spirit, using reach tactics with a longspear. Take combat reflexes as your first feat (and Toughness if you're human). Stats would be:
I have set to see a good 20 point build with arcane enlightenment; the int and cha requirements consume too many stat points for my liking. The alternative, the Speaker for the Past archetype, also gives you revelations, which are very good. A Speaker for the Past can Haste the party on the enemy surprise round (Speed or Slow Time, Temporal Cererity).
There's a skill challenge in book 4 of Ironfang Invasion, where the party must convince the dwarves of Kraggodan to aid them. It might give you some ideas:
DM Brainiac wrote:
You can read about our play-through of this episode in our online play-by-post campaign here (I play Wulfram in this game).
I think that a Speaker for the Past Shaman is a good alternative to the Mystic Theurge. You get a full range of healing spells, along with a broad range of utility, battlefield control and buff spells (including Heroism and Haste), all without losing caster levels. Having Threefold Aspect on your spell list, and access to the Knowledge of the Ages revelation, can make you good at research challenges and occult rituals, if you choose to focus on that.
I'm playing a half-orc Speak for the Past Heavens Shaman (using Background Skills and Automatic Bonus Progression) in Strange Aeons, and am finding it very suitable for this AP. That being said, with a full wizard and cleric already in the party, you're looking at a fair amount of duplication.
Can anyone suggest a frontline skill monkey to help keep the party alive?
If you don't want to be the guy that dies all the time, I suggest prioritizing keeping yourself alive. I'm not saying to abandon your team-mates, just that they should bear some responsibility for their own survival.
Swashigator is a great choice but no reason that a straight strength investigator is not also a great choice.
I agree that strength investigators work very well. With the given (dysfunctional) party composition, I favor the Swashtigator here simply because it can better cope with getting swarmed, which I see as a big risk here.
If all three martialish characters are well build, you might have a high damage party, which can make enemies too easy. A well-build Witch can also easily decide encounters with controll spells and hexes. Both are things to watch ouf for, lest the game become too easy.
There are still some encounters that could be very dangerous, especially if people neglect their will saves.
Strange Aeons Spoilers:
The Vivisectionist will likely fail the fear saves against the Tatterman (book 1) and the Revenant(book 2). So those will be especially dangerous encounters.
I would check that the Witch takes a hex that can be used against undead (immune to mind affecting).
Make sure the Monk and Vivisectionist don't have 5 Cha, or they won't be able to reliably wake up from the Dreamlands Excursion ritual in book 3 (at 7th lvl).
Mirror Image is very helpful (but some high level enemies aren't fooled).
Fort and Will saves are very important at higher levels; prioritize a superior Cloak of Resistance (this seems to be the most commonly neglected item), and strongly consider feats like Great Fortitude and Iron Will.
Think about how you're going to get out of a grapple.
I'm playing a goblin telekineticist in Giantslayer (currently 6th lvl).
I'm planning on taking water as my expanded element.
Some of ideas:
A high strength bard (you could use reach tactics with a longspear if you wanted).
A high strength shaman using reach tactics. Note that you don't need high Cha to be decent at diplomacy, as long as you max out your skill ranks (and have it as a class skill). My desert half-orc Speaker for the Past shaman has 8 Cha, and acts as the party face. If the armor thing is a big deal for you, a Speaker for the Past can take the Spirit Shield revelation (at 4th lvl).
A high strength Investigator with the Student of Philosophy trait (can use Int for Diplomacy).
A cut scene can be used to give the players important information that they will need later:
Hell's Rebels Spoiler:
At the start of the very first encounter of Hell's Rebels, the PCs see Lady Nox get a dagger in the throat; she pulls it out and the wound heals right away. This tells them that:
a) She's too tough for them to fight right now.
b) She has fast healing.
They can also hear a rumor that she's a half-devil, so they can guess that she probably has DR/silver, and that fire is not likely to be terribly effective against her. In addition, they see her holding a glaive — a x3 crit, two-handed reach weapon. Putting that all together gives them information that they can use, to plan for when they meet her later on.
I'm playing a halfling Dawnflower Dervish as a primary melee character in Hell's Rebels, and find it works well. Once you have Mirror Image, your defenses are very good (better than many martials). It gets even better once you have Meditative Whirl, because you can replenish your Mirror Images and heal yourself at the same time.
Damage output is moderate, but very reliable due to high attack bonuses.
I played this character in PFS as well. On one occasion, my 2nd lvl character was tougher than the 3rd lvl characters in the party. At higher levels, enemy bosses occasionally despaired of damaging my character.
@OP: I think you should ask yourself: Why do I want to play with these people?
They're not your friends, IMHO — that's not how real friends behave. The fact that you've played with them for several years is not a reason to continue — that would be falling for the sunk cost fallacy.
Better to reduce the amulet of natural armor to +2 (saving 10,000 GP), and spend the money elsewhere. Increasing the Full Plate to +4 only costs 9,000 GP, for example. Likewise, a +3 ring of protection is pretty expensive; perhaps reduce to +2 and buy an ioun stone or two.
I would also consider buying a scroll or two like Remove Paralysis or Remove Blindness — situational spells that your might not want to memorize most of the time. And a wand of Cure Light Wounds is always a good thing to have.
Well, according to the bestiary, the Revenant is a CR 6 (CR 9 would be more accurate)! :)
We were 4th lvl when it attacked at the Silver Wagon. Two of the party members were passed out after an afternoon of drinking, and were woken up by the monster's shriek. :)
And yes, it was down to 1 hp. It was good to have a touch attack to use against it, because otherwise I would have missed!
We're in Book 3 now, at Viscount Brellin's party.
IMHO, it's intentional for the Witch class to have access to some things that the Shaman doesn't. Otherwise, why play a Witch?
It's a move action to take out a wand (which does provoke an AoO), so it's not always available. As for doing anything relevant in combat, I'm playing a Shaman in Strange Aeons. In Book 2, the Revenant (super-deadly encounter) had grabbed the Bloodrager, dropping him below 0 hp at the same time, and was about to deliver a coup de grâce. I finished it off with my Healing Hex, and the Bloodrager lived. :)
It probably makes a difference that in both cases (published APs) when I have played a Shaman, there was absolutely no access to merchants before 4th lvl.