Tactics 101 (The Art of Buffing You Up)


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Buffing is one of those tasks that not a lot of players really like doing. I mean after all it doesn’t make you the star of the show, no spotlight has ever been shone on the guy holding the strings that makes the actor float across the stage.

Yet, it’s a rather important job. Once you start comparing the stats of some higher CR encounters to those of players, you start to understand the importance of buffs. Even said monsters I mentioned usually have buffs themselves to increase their own power.

Buffs are, ultimately, important in pathfinder tactics. They allow characters to power up beyond the limitations of their class and overcome disadvantages in action economy, numbers, and mobility against numerically superior and qualitatively superior forces. They’re a big part of the puzzle that allows 4 guys to take on twenty or manage to handle a creature capable of wiping out entire armies.

What is a buff exactly?

A buff is about an exchange of actions in order to increase an aspect of a character (usually numbers and mobility, but sometimes actions as well). Buffs usually fall into four categories.

Incidental: These buffs are riders that come off a specific action. They are usually very good to have purely because they don’t require an action to activate. Their powers vary but are often very weak and situational. Add that they also tend to be exceptionally rare and too often tied to abilities that overall aren’t that great from the start and you rarely see much talk or even use out of them
Examples: Alternate Channeling, Cavalier’s Banner ability, Paladin’s Aura of Courage.

Personal: These buffs are often very powerful but are usually highly limited either in duration (Righteous Might or Divine Power) or have very limited uses (Rage, Smite Evil). They only affect the character that uses them effectively translating an action into future more powerful actions.

Targeted: Sometimes lasting longer than personal buffs depending upon the actual bonuses given these tend to be weaker than personal buffs. They’re more advantageous to a group since they allow one character to translate an action on another character that can use the buff most efficiently.
Examples: Bull’s Strength, Expeditious Retreat, Bestow Grace of the Champion

Mass: Mass buffs are highly valuable to a group as they usually provide multiple forms of small benefits that add up to high numbers when spread out over a number of cahracters. These buffs are almost always short lived but their power and coverage make them the most valuable combat buffs.

Examples: Inspire Courage, Haste, Blessing of Fervor, Bless
Now it’s worth noting that nearly every class has the capacity to buff themselves or others allowing for even hammer or anvil minded characters to act in the capacity of the groups arm. Magic items can also be used in such a matter and it’s worth noting that some of these items provide benefits that are not otherwise available to player characters.

Too much, and Too Little
Buffing is about the exchange of actions and resources for the benefit of boosting future numbers and actions. However it’s because this boost is an exchange of resources that care has to be taken in the use of buff’s lest you find yourself in a stuation where they are sorely needed but unavailable.

Therefore it becomes the arm’s task to ensure the conservation of their resources by closely observing the builds and tactics of their group and select appropriate buffs based on the situation even and up to simply not using buffs if the group is well enough off without burning valuable resources. Sometimes this means hard decisions have to be made. A warrior calling for haste may simply not get it due to a stronger need for defensive measures such as a communal resist energy. An enlarge person on a polearm warrior may end up being more necessary against a group of foes than a bless spell inspire courage may have to take a backseat to a countersong.

The key here is understanding how buffs add up and stack and determine where necessary limitations are. It varies by group but there are some general rules of thumb you can use to get an idea of where buffs are needed or not.

1. An enemy whose supernatural abilities can remove multiple combatants from the field requires boosts to saves and defenses before any offensive considerations are present. Enemies like this can render offensive buffs a waste.

2. A good base to figure out an initial attack score a character needs to reach is to understand their BAB plus whether or not they possess the powerattack or deadly aim feats. If they do you need to figure out the penalty they take from using it (-1 with an additional -1 for each time their BAB reaches a multiple of 4 (4,8,12,16)) and buff at least high enough to make up for this penalty. After this amount (which will have them equal to their base attack without using this feat) you should only buff attack enough that they have about a 70% chance to hit (or 6 on the die) anything more is essentially a waste.

3. Use your buffs to match already in place debuffs. A -2 to a creatures armor class is an effective +2 to hit for creatures swinging at it. Therefore if you give a +2 attack bonus to a character they have an effective +4 against that particular opponent. Keep these in mind to avoid wasteful buffs.

4. Knowledge is ever so valuable and you should avoid buffing specifics (other than basic attack/defense numbers) until you or another character uses their knowledge and gives out the necessary information to the group.

5. Understand the type of bonus your buffs give. Enhancement bonuses are common but do not stack with stat boosting items. Look at what buffs you have available versus what the rest of the group has and provides. If you have a bard using good hope, heroism, and inspire courage in their buff line up then you can avoid granting morale and competence bonuses. If your druid or magus uses wildshape or shapeshifting spells all the time then size bonuses granted by enlarge person will be all but wasted. In a group full of speed weapons then haste is of limited use. The point being is don’t stack bonuses that already exist. Instead look for different ones to stack with what you already have.

6. Low AC classes aren’t going to benefit as much from an AC boost anymore than a High ac character. Instead focus on buffs that grant miss chances, concealment, or means of avoiding attacks entirely. Middle ac classes those just on the verge of a high ac will usually benefit more from a high ac buff since it will put them in a high ac range.

7. In terms of damage do not worry too much about piling it on characters that do lots of damage. Instead pile it on the characters that do damage consistently that means characters like gunslingers who tend to hit a lot but not deal all that much damage can benefit greatly from enhanced damage. The same goes for fighters and barbarians as well since they hit very often and often for lots of damage as well. Characters that don’t hit very often, or otherwise don’t take as many attack actions won’t benefit as much from a raw damage buff as the others.

8. Knowing your group is as important as knowing your enemy. Understanding your debuffers, your damage dealers, your battlefield controllers, and your other group buffers can go a long way to understanding how valuable your own buffs are and how often and for whom you should be using them for.

Timing is everything

Buff early. That’s the best advice anyone can give a spellcaster heavy group. Simply be mindful of when you are headed into dangerous situations. If you are stepping into a dungeon or heading into a dangerous situation throw down all your hour long buffs, as many as necessary, and work from there.

Minute long buffs depend more or less on what level your group is but usually can be cast just before entering an encounter and with care can last into the next one at least. Extend rods or the extend spell feat can be greatly beneficial on these sorts of buffs.
Round length buffs or buffs with a set limit of one minute are best cast either just before initiative is rolled, during the surprise round or at the very first round of combat before any of the characters outside of anvils can act. In this way you retain the maximum amount of effectiveness with your buffs.

Getting surprised however makes buffs much more difficult. In such cases it’s best not to sweat the small numbers or the little defensive measures and head straight into large offensive numbers. Being surprised is no laughing matter and can easily put you in an inescapable defensive position. In such cases it’s best to push back, and push back hard with as much control and offense as your group can muster before you can look into boosting defensive capabilities.

Force multiplication and concentration, a look at common buffing tactics

Multiplication is about translating a single action into a boost of multiple actions. Often this is mistaken as a boost to multiple characters but really all that translates to is boosting the actions these characters have. For example if you boost a groups two handed ranger and greatsword wielding paladin using inspire courage you’re only boosting their single attack thus your bard song translates to an overall boost to the group of +2 attack and Damage. However if you replace these two with a wildshaping melee druid cat and his cat pet alongside an archer fighter with rapid shot that’s roughly a +16 benefit from your bard song. This is also a pretty good strategy with summoners or generally any larger than normal group.

The downside to such a strategy is that while the overall numbers produced by such a strategy can be quite large particularly when spread over numerous actions each action may not be as effective as you want. Remember having lots of actions isn’t a real substitute for having several effective actions. Our one barbarian may only be doing about 4 extra damage with the bard song active. However if none of the druids summons hit their three attacks (a strong possibility given they’re low attack compared to the barbarian) than the effective bonus granted may as well be 0.

Concentration The polar opposite of this tactic is one highly favored by groups with lesser tactical aptitude but is no less effective than multiplication. It is essentially taking a character that is already an effective fighting character (usually a fighter or barnarian but just as often a paladin or monk) and piling on as many buffs as can stack on to that character as possible. This is essentially the pathfinder equivalent of forming the megazord.
The tactic is quite strong as the buffed character will produce a great number of effective actions while generally being tough enough to withstand the punishment of being in such a harsh combat environment. However it comes with the caveat that all the eggs have been placed in a single basket and often a single failed roll, or good dispel check, is all it takes to deal with the groups avatar. It’s a strong tactic to be sure but best applied intelligently.

Defensive This form of buffing isn’t about empowering the groups strongest elements but about patching holes in the groups greatest weaknesses. It’s rarely discussed as a buffing strategy but is pretty important to a group’s survival and while it does not often end a fight it can help conserve resources. Just as an example compare the spell Resist Energy with Cure Serious Wounds. 3d8+7 healing averages out to be around 21 points of healing. However Resist Energy at this same level will resist twenty points of the chosen energy per attack. If you get attacked each round from the same amount of energy each round for the entire duration that’s around 14,000 points of damage prevented or about 700 level 3 spells saved because of one casting of resist energy.

Granted such numbers will never come up but it helps illustrate the resource conservation point about discrepancy buffing. It can also help keep action economy from being dropped or affected by using spells like freedom of movement, fly, or touch of the sea. Such spells are often valued for their mobility potential but are equally useful in preventing your groups offensive elements from being unduly hampered by environmental or adversarial concerns.

And in the end…
Buffing matters. But it’s not as simple as one would think of it. It can be every bit as tactically complex as melee tactics, as battlefield control, or in defensive/aggressive maneuvering. They have to know what the group is as a whole, and no when to enhance it’s strongest pieces or bolster it’s weakest, they rely on the groups hammers to do their job and the groups anvils to make their job easier to perform. So, give your group’s support elements a break, they do a hard thankless job.

Buffing is fun when you are playing with mature intelligent allies. If not your allies may be relying on you to constantly boost their preexisting weaknesses every time combat happens. I've had that happen, it can suck the fun out of an otherwise cool role.

Hogeyhead wrote:
Buffing is fun when you are playing with mature intelligent allies. If not your allies may be relying on you to constantly boost their preexisting weaknesses every time combat happens. I've had that happen, it can suck the fun out of an otherwise cool role.

It happens. Communication is key and a willingness to be honest. A bit of diplomacy doesn't hurt. No one wants to be told how they suck but there are ways to do it that will garner positive results rather than hurt feelings. And it happens to other group elements as well. Damage dealers may feel like the only ones doing anything worthwhile in the group, battlefield controllers may feel better off just plinking at things with their crossbow for all the good their control is doing. Things like this happen, which is why group discussions over tactics are incredibly valuable.

<fake german accent> We're here to BUFF *CLAP* YOU UP!

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In any case the next one will be on combat maneuvers. The more I look into them the more they turn out incredibly useful. The numbers involved are much more dynamic than is often pointed out and it's surprisingly easy to get a high CMB or a low CMD.

I'm also considering the next video. Last time I wanted to stream it for audience participation (it's a group game afterall) but due to technical difficulties on my part that proved impossible. So this time around I might look into gather a group having them get together and actually build characters that are menat to succeed as a group and running thme through some, shall we say, beefed up modules. To see how they do.

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