How badly is an arcane caster needed?


Rise of the Runelords


I just recently took my PCs into Rise of the Runelords. They were an existing party at about 3rd level, so I'm bringing them right in to the village after the initial Goblin raid, and after having some time to make connections and ties to the city, are being told about Thistletop and planning their excursion/attack there.

Here's my issue. My party (larger than average) consisted of a Rogue, a Brawler, a Gunslinger, a Samurai, a Druid, and a Magus. (And I'm already prepared to scale up encounters to deal with a party of six instead of a party of four, so that's not where my issue is.)

My issue is that our Magus player is... unreliable. To the point I'm thinking of gently uninviting her from the table, or making it clear that she's welcome when she can make it (if I can find a way to reasonably get her back to the party), but that I'm going to keep major plot points from revolving around her.

That isn't what I'm worried about. What I'm worried about is whether a party can survive with three beatsticks, a rogue, and a druid.

The Samurai player has offered to change characters to an arcane caster of some sort, but I don't want to force her into that if she isn't 100% on board - unless the lack of an arcane caster is going to be crippling as we go through the AP.

I know they can probably make their way through Thistletop and dealing with Nualia without an arcane caster. I suspect they won't even have any significant problems through the Skinshaw Murders. But beyond that? How badly screwed are they if the Samurai doesn't switch out?


1 person marked this as a favorite.

TLDR: An arcane caster is helpful, but lacking one is not crippling. Don't make the samurai switch unless they want to. But the party will need to be prepared to work around their lack of arcane capability.

Detailed Thoughts:
Arcane casters have a broad spell selection.
They get a wider variety of direct damage spells than a druid. Arcane casters also get access to a few healing spells like Remove Curse and Stone to Flesh that the druid doesn't. An additional caster would also give them more spell slots for buffing and utility spells. So an arcane caster would complement this party well.

Arcane casters show up in every adventure of Rise of the Runelords and become ubiquitous starting in Sins of the Saviors. Having an arcane caster in the party will definitely help counter rival arcane casters. But I can't think of any occasions that the AP outright gates progress behind arcane abilities.

As such, I wouldn't force a player to play an arcane caster if they don't want to. If they decide to forgo an arcane caster, they will need to prepare accordingly. Specifically, the party will need to carry scrolls for anything the druid can't cover and invest in UMD to use the scrolls. Investing in UMD will probably fall on the Rogue due to their high skill points. Without a cleric in the party, they will probably want to do this anyway.

Your samurai will need to select a specific arcane class if he decides to swap out. Arcanists and Wizards would be my recommendation for this party. An Int-based class with all of the knowledge skills as class skills allows the party to fill their missing bookworm niche. Obtaining information about enemy abilities will make their life a lot easier. These classes also excel at using Detect Magic to analyze magical effects and items. Due to all the enemy wizards running around, this AP is chock full of spellbooks and enchanted items that the mage can use. And they can take up crafting to build their own items.

I personally prefer the arcanist so that I don't have to micromanage my spell slots. That will make things easier if this is the samurai's first caster.


you could do a npc henchman arcane caster too if the samurai does not wish to change classes


Steelfiredragon wrote:
you could do a npc henchman arcane caster too if the samurai does not wish to change classes

I could, but that would be a last resort. I really dislike having significant NPCs with the party long term - and I'm already dealing with a party of five players plus the Druid's animal companion and the Samurai's mount and the non-class-feature mounts (including a Dire Wolf owned by the Half-Orc Brawler).

Throwing another character onto the player's side - especially one I'd have to keep track of - seems like a nightmare for me.


Emerald Cat wrote:

TLDR: An arcane caster is helpful, but lacking one is not crippling. Don't make the samurai switch unless they want to. But the party will need to be prepared to work around their lack of arcane capability.

** spoiler omitted **...

Thanks. That's very helpful.

I think I'll let the Samurai's player know that if she wants to switch, it might make things much easier for the party, but that it is absolutely, 100% not required unless she wants to do it.

And if she does want to? I will suggest (but not require) the Arcanist. If she'd rather go Wizard or Sorcerer or Witch, I'll totally let her run that direction.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens Subscriber

In the last 2 chapters, a high arcane caster with spell book use gets the most benefit out of the normal provided loot, and if they can predict and prepare fairly well, can help avoid a lot of TPK situations.
A wizard or arcanist isn't mandatory, but it should be heavily recommended.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

If you have 5 players, you can probably work your way around a lot of the issues. Just go with it... someone will probably get splatted at some point anyway, so you can address that issue when you get there.


AaronUnicorn wrote:
Steelfiredragon wrote:
you could do a npc henchman arcane caster too if the samurai does not wish to change classes

I could, but that would be a last resort. I really dislike having significant NPCs with the party long term - and I'm already dealing with a party of five players plus the Druid's animal companion and the Samurai's mount and the non-class-feature mounts (including a Dire Wolf owned by the Half-Orc Brawler).

Throwing another character onto the player's side - especially one I'd have to keep track of - seems like a nightmare for me.

that is true, though mind you, that said npc could in fact only be interested in a certain item in the area wherever the party is going and then depart from the party after said item is acquired or the area is done. thus it would be short term.....( and then you can kill them if you want. does really evil laugh)

still even then as you said last resort...

Silver Crusade

LoudKid wrote:

In the last 2 chapters, a high arcane caster with spell book use gets the most benefit out of the normal provided loot, and if they can predict and prepare fairly well, can help avoid a lot of TPK situations.

A wizard or arcanist isn't mandatory, but it should be heavily recommended.

I was going to mention this. If I'd known how this would go when we started 4 years ago, I would have recommended the party have a wizard instead of their sorcerer.


Am I seconding or thirding the motion? Arcane caster? Yes, have some. Do you have to have one? No... But man it makes the party a lot more flexible. Creating magic items, including wands. Change spells each day based on expected encounters (very useful in Sins of the Saviors.) All kinds of utility features including fixing stuff the druid can't (as mentioned by others above.) Using scrolls, UMD etc. is kind of clumsy and still requires one (or more) of the players to focus on a skill/character build they probably wouldn't otherwise consider.

Spoiler:
Keep in mind, as written, the pc's get trapped in Runeforge (Book5) with no way out initially. They'll have only what they brought with them. And the place is full to the brim with high level arcane casters. A lot of planning ahead to have enough variety and access to scrolls to cover likely and unlikely contingencies. Yea, you may not have memorized Flesh to Stone today, but it's in your spellbook - you can memorize it tomorrow and get your buddy back. If not, hope someone bought a couple flesh to stone scrolls on the off chance... And everytime they fail to plan/guess correctly the GM is stuck with a choice, let them suffer or "what an amazing coincidence, you found a flesh to stone scroll in the next room. What are the chances of that? <wink, wink>"

My group literally just finished - probably drop a small write-up out here in the near future - and the wizard (conjuration specialist) factored significantly in the campaign. He could teleport them around, haste everyone (though the bard could do this as well) summon meat shields, make people invisible and let them fly. Just as an example.


Latrecis wrote:

Am I seconding or thirding the motion? Arcane caster? Yes, have some. Do you have to have one? No... But man it makes the party a lot more flexible. Creating magic items, including wands. Change spells each day based on expected encounters (very useful in Sins of the Saviors.) All kinds of utility features including fixing stuff the druid can't (as mentioned by others above.) Using scrolls, UMD etc. is kind of clumsy and still requires one (or more) of the players to focus on a skill/character build they probably wouldn't otherwise consider.

** spoiler omitted **

My group literally just finished - probably drop a small write-up out here in the near future - and the wizard (conjuration specialist) factored significantly in the campaign. He could teleport them around, haste everyone (though the bard could do this as well) summon meat shields, make people invisible and let them fly. Just as an example.

Your comments about Book 5 is very much the kind of insight I was looking for. I will definitely urge the Samurai's player to consider an arcane caster with access to a spellbook. Wizard, Arcanist, Magus, something in that family.


I'll note that condition removal probably shouldn't be the primary reason to have a wizard-- clerics cover a lot more there. But there's still plenty of room for a wizard to shine.

That being said, that doesn't require your wizard to be there from level one. There's a lot of situations having access to things like Charm Person or Color Spray can make your life easier, but you don't encounter a Swarm until at least level 5 IIRC.


Like most have said...
- MUST have, no
- makes things ALOT easier, yes.


You'll need a skill monkey if you don't have an arcane caster. For example if you cant fly you better be able to jump and climb.


AaronUnicorn wrote:
Your comments about Book 5 is very much the kind of insight I was looking for. I will definitely urge the Samurai's player to consider an arcane caster with access to a spellbook. Wizard, Arcanist, Magus, something in that family.

If the samurai's player is still reluctant,

Spoiler:
another option for Book 5 is to have one of the local casters ally with the party in exchange for a chance to escape the Runeforge.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Arcane casters give you options and flexibility. They make things easier, faster, less dangerous, and in some cases, possible when they otherwise wouldn't be. With arcane casters, you fly instead of walk, teleport instead of fly, go in the back or the top floor instead of through the front door, breathe underwater instead of drown, and so on.

Other classes can cover some of these, but only an arcane caster can cover all of them.


Uqbarian wrote:
AaronUnicorn wrote:
Your comments about Book 5 is very much the kind of insight I was looking for. I will definitely urge the Samurai's player to consider an arcane caster with access to a spellbook. Wizard, Arcanist, Magus, something in that family.

If the samurai's player is still reluctant,

** spoiler omitted **

and the op already said that was a last result..


I appreciate all the advice.

And I am absolutely, 100% not going to push my Samurai's player. She was the one who offered to switch - so I'm going to make some suggestions about what character classes she could to switch to that might make things easier for the party, but I'm not going to make her do anything.

I will definitely keep the idea of an NPC arcane caster in my back pocket as a future possibility, but yeah, I'd really prefer to avoid that if at all possible. It would be one thing if I had a small table (3 players), but with 5, including a Druid who very much considers her animal companion to be a full member of the party, controlling an arcane caster on the side of the players is just a lot of work I don't want to do.

Especially since, as has been pointed out, an arcane caster can change the battles *so* much. Adding an NPC fighter to the party is less of a headache. Trying to intelligently play a caster as an NPC on the party's side, especially once we get to the point where I'm also managing NPC caster's among their opponents just seems... well, like a nightmare.


John Mechalas wrote:

Arcane casters give you options and flexibility. They make things easier, faster, less dangerous, and in some cases, possible when they otherwise wouldn't be. With arcane casters, you fly instead of walk, teleport instead of fly, go in the back or the top floor instead of through the front door, breathe underwater instead of drown, and so on.

Other classes can cover some of these, but only an arcane caster can cover all of them.

This is a short and fantastic answer to the original question. This is exactly how the wizard in my Runelords campaign contributed. In addition to summoning hordes of monsters to use as cannon fodder (he was a conjuration specialist.)


AaronUnicorn wrote:

I appreciate all the advice.

And I am absolutely, 100% not going to push my Samurai's player. She was the one who offered to switch - so I'm going to make some suggestions about what character classes she could to switch to that might make things easier for the party, but I'm not going to make her do anything.

I will definitely keep the idea of an NPC arcane caster in my back pocket as a future possibility, but yeah, I'd really prefer to avoid that if at all possible. It would be one thing if I had a small table (3 players), but with 5, including a Druid who very much considers her animal companion to be a full member of the party, controlling an arcane caster on the side of the players is just a lot of work I don't want to do.

Especially since, as has been pointed out, an arcane caster can change the battles *so* much. Adding an NPC fighter to the party is less of a headache. Trying to intelligently play a caster as an NPC on the party's side, especially once we get to the point where I'm also managing NPC caster's among their opponents just seems... well, like a nightmare.

Nope, not "like a nightmare," rather "will definitely be a nightmare." Speaking from personal experience, it's a poor experience all around. As a GM, you just won't be able to give the character the attention and focus it needs. Just wanted to let you know you seem to be thinking about this the right way (based on my time as a GM.)


I'm having decent luck running an arcanist DMPC so far, but that's with 3 players and only at level 2. I also ask my players if they would like him to prepare something specific for his daily spells, otherwise I just stick to a default loadout.

Another nice thing is that he's got all the knowledge skills and I have him as a more established resident of Sandpoint (he's a Shoanti that washed dishes at the White Deer Inn) so he serves as a solid vehicle for exposition on a lot of content.


instead of a last result wizzie dmpc, how hard would a bard dmpc be?
and how well would it work ....


AaronUnicorn wrote:
I will definitely keep the idea of an NPC arcane caster in my back pocket as a future possibility, but yeah, I'd really prefer to avoid that if at all possible. It would be one thing if I had a small table (3 players), but with 5, including a Druid who very much considers her animal companion to be a full member of the party, controlling an arcane caster on the side of the players is just a lot of work I don't want to do.

For sure. I was just thinking that having one around for only one book of the AP would be more manageable than having an NPC caster ally from the beginning. But running one is still a time and attention sink whenever it happens, definitely.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

AaronUnicorn, have you thought about a pure support-focused cohort controlled by the [u]players[/u]?

Any PC might take the Recruits feat and have a couple of low-level casters to switch back and forth. The PC should build the NPC and control it in combat, including preparing its spells. On level 7 the feat turns into full-fledged Leadership, making the cohort a lot more useful. Alternatively, you could just waive the feat and let the party control this last member. They will probably build him/her as a support/utility character, not liable to steal the spotlight from the PCs.

There are a few NPCs in Runelords that might be up for that (with just a bit of reskinning):

Ameiko Kaijitsu, bard.
Brodert Quink, wizard (his age penalties would make him both a superb wizard and a fragile damsel-in-distress).
Chask Haladan, bard (or easily a wizard).
Cyrdak Drokkus, bard.
Kaye Tesarani, sorcerer.

The following NPCs are presented as antagonists - a quick readjusting of their attitudes could place them by the PCs side:

Lyrie Akenja (if she survives Thistletop), wizard. Just play her as focusing on her own survival, willing to betray Nualia and ally with the PCs. At the PCs' side she will amass a fortune and get all the Tassilonian magic she can carry.

Caizarlu Zerren (if he survives Habe's Sanitarium), wizard. He may surrender to the PCs during the fight, promising to provide them with his expert knowledge about the ghoul menace.

You could introduce a wizard NPC as a thrall in Xanesha's service, perhaps tied up in her lair (a faceless stalker might have stolen his/her identity).


Just make the players responsible for running the NPC. They are probably gonna be happy enough about the power surge from that character's spells (a 3rd-level wizard has 2 bull's strength spells, one vanish for the rogue, one enlarge person, and one protection from evil) that they won't mind managing him/her.


Beware that the entrance to Runeforge is pretty difficult to open without a wizard or a versatile caster, requiring one spell of each school to be cast.


Rune wrote:
Beware that the entrance to Runeforge is pretty difficult to open without a wizard or a versatile caster, requiring one spell of each school to be cast.

The druid and the magus should be able to cover that (maybe with help from the rogue via UMD), as long as they're not on a short time limit.


A couple of other things to keep in mind about RotR, specifically:

1. Spellbooks are one of the major treasures in the game. It practically throws them at the party, and one of the rewards for defeating Mokmurian is quite literally every Core spell through 6th level (7th if you are using the 3.5 version). Yes, you can sell it, but if you have a prepared caster in the party it's value is far beyond money.

2. If you do run without a full arcane caster, you may need to dial down the encounter with Karzoug.

RotR all but assumes you are running it with a wizard in the party. You can play it without one, but you're handicapping the party by doing so.


Uqbarian wrote:
Rune wrote:
Beware that the entrance to Runeforge is pretty difficult to open without a wizard or a versatile caster, requiring one spell of each school to be cast.
The druid and the magus should be able to cover that (maybe with help from the rogue via UMD), as long as they're not on a short time limit.

Yes, but if I could count on the Magus, I wouldn't be in the position of wondering how badly I needed an arcane caster. My issue is that I can't count on the Magus' player to be reliable, and I'm trying to figure out if the party needs to shore up the potential absence of the Magus.

I realized from the beginning that having a Magus as our primary arcane caster and a Druid as our primary divine caster was going to pose a challenge - I wasn't worried about it too much though.

What I'm going through now is the question of "If I can't depend on my Magus player to be there, should I have the party look at having another source of arcane magic?"

I suppose I could offer the suggestion of someone taking an NPC wizard cohort. They're already quite fond of Ameiko, after all.


AaronUnicorn wrote:
Yes, but if I could count on the Magus, I wouldn't be in the position of wondering how badly I needed an arcane caster. My issue is that I can't count on the Magus' player to be reliable, and I'm trying to figure out if the party needs to shore up the potential absence of the Magus.

But if the magus' player doesn't show up, the character is still there to be run as an NPC, right? Or does your group not allow that? (EDIT: Ah, rereading your first post, I see there's the possibility the magus might not be around at all by the fifth book.)

But the druid can cover getting into Runeforge on their own, assuming the party figures out the requirements and has time to prepare, as all the required schools are on the druid spell list. (I'm also assuming the Runeforge entrance doesn't require spells of a particular level -- I don't have the hardcover for reference.) Illusion is a hole in their corebook list, but they can use hide campsite from the APG; elven druids can also use blend from the ARG.

AaronUnicorn wrote:
I suppose I could offer the suggestion of someone taking an NPC wizard cohort. They're already quite fond of Ameiko, after all.

It's a good option, particularly if they're happy to run the cohort. (You'd probably want the cohort to go with a PC that doesn't have an animal companion, of course.)


Chapter 6, in my opinion, would be folly with no caster.
If not even for all the threats along the way, like Mokmurian, Karzoug is so deadly, it is ridiculous.
I GMd this all the way to the last battle. And my group was not even remotely ready for the slaughter the Karzoug encounter unleashed on them. They were sitting there afterwards, character sheets all marked up with negative hit points. Wondering what they did wrong.
And they had a caster.
No wizard in this campaign is straight suicide.


I've been running RotRL converted into D&D 5e, so I won't speak to the need for an Arcane caster mechanically. However, I will say that you absolutely need a character with Knowledge Arcana and a personal desire to learn about Ancient Thassilon and its magical traditions.

The PCs in my game are nearly entirely martial and while they've managed to make it to the Runeforge, they're totally missing a lot of the cool lore that informs the decisions that Karzoug and the other Runelords are making because the characters don't really care. I've had to have a number of NPCs step in to provide "Magic 101" context lectures and prod the party into gathering information because ultimately, if there's not a monetary reward, they're not inclined to bother.


SoylentG wrote:
The PCs in my game are nearly entirely martial and while they've managed to make it to the Runeforge, they're totally missing a lot of the cool lore that informs the decisions that Karzoug and the other Runelords are making because the characters don't really care. I've had to have a number of NPCs step in to provide "Magic 101" context lectures and prod the party into gathering information because ultimately, if there's not a monetary reward, they're not inclined to bother.

I appreciate your feedback, every little bit I read about those further along is helpful. My PCs are nowhere close to that point, but, after reading through all of the challenges faced by other GMs, my group had to have a sit down about skills.

Zero spoilers were exposed but I stressed that their knowledge and discovery skills were lacking to make the most of the adventure path. They are truly enjoying the story/want to enjoy the story as much as possible so I gave them a one time complete skill reset.

I don't mind the use of NPCs to poke and prod, but I worried our game would devolve to combat, combat, combat, helpful NPC stepping in to narrate the story for them, back to exploring...

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Adventure Path / Rise of the Runelords / How badly is an arcane caster needed? All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in Rise of the Runelords