Skulls & Shackles Support Character - Need build advice


Hey folks-

I'm returning to Pathfinder after a long hiatus to play a Skulls and Shackles game to play with a new group. I haven't built a character in ages and lack the some of the context to know what will be fun, satisfying, and effective. I can compare numbers all I want, but can't tell if my DCs would be too low, etc etc.

I'm looking to build a spellcaster to fill in the blanks in a supportive role. What I think we could use is (and please correct me if I'm wrong!):
-buff support
-utility spells
-"Sneak attack support" for our dual sneak attackers
-contribute to the front line, directly or indirectly
-healing as needed

The party consists of:
Sea Elf Rogue (Pirate) planning to prestige into...more pirate.
Tengu Ninja
Undine Witch (White-haired!)
Aasimar Bard (Studious Librarian)

We're on a 25 point buy (!), Races up to 15 points, and two traits (three if you take a negative), one of which must be a Skulls and Shackles Campaign Trait.

Notably, we're getting 2 free "background skills" that can include Profession (Sailor) and a rules change that essentially equates to free Weapon Finesse (I'll be great at touch spells!)

My current ideas are:

1. Cleric of a neutral god, channeling positive innately but taking versatile channel and picking up Control Undead. Costs me a feat to both "be a solid necromancer" and spontaneously heal. Variant Channeling might be worth it here. I love the idea of having the opportunity to use some of the more morally questionable spells, but don't want to be a frothing-at-the-mouth cultist.

2+int skills is brutal for this campaign, it seems. I was even thinking Grippli for this character, but the lack of another skill plus essentially being two feats short (because you HAVE to take Agile Tongue...c'mon) for Agile Tongue, a climb speed, and a glide seems an iffy trade.

Having a pirate ship with skeletons aboard and undead sea monsters in our wake has great flavor. The necromancy stuff is cleared with the GM. I think I'm much more interested in being a caster-type than trying to be a meaningful melee threat here.

-maybe Besmara to go entirely on theme [trickery/water(oceans)?]. Death
doesn't mean you can slack off, guttersnipe! It writes itself.

-maybe the new Grandmother Spider from Faiths of Golarion. Great domains
(luck! darkness! trickery!), I like the net proficiency, the deity spells
are nice (silent image, web, spider climb). True neutral opens up Envoy
of Balance...which seems worthwhile over a few extra dice on channel? I
can't tell how good some of those endowments really are. I
think the theme here would be, "I'll do ANYTHING to protect this crew."

-Anything with travel or madness is also rather appealing, but the gods
don't fit, I don't think.

2. A druid, but not an aquatic-themed one. Perhaps Goliath - I was told there are dinosaurs around somewhere in the area. Build to be a tanky beatstick with the druid spell list to back it up. I'm pretty confident on how to build such a character (I think? - there are specific guides around it) and need less advice. This is sort of my "plan B" if I can't settle on a cleric I'm happy with.

So if you've read this far, I suppose it boils down to:
-How would you build a piratical, supportive necromancer for that party?
-How do I stat such a character?
-How do I ensure the character is fun and effective at all levels of play?
-Can I make such a character that has something meaningful to do every turn? I recall a previous pet peeve of mine was playing a sad sorcerer with a light crossbow.

Thanks for reading.

hmm. you got no front line it seems.
i would actually go with druid. as you can buff + heal somewhat and your pet can take point. help flank. and if set up well can grapple+pin (flank\pin set up for sneak attacks) and if it dies you just get a new one no permanent harm done.
if your going underwater a lot the big squid is excellent for many many things. i like setting it up with 3 int asap so it can take any feat it has requirements for and not only animal feats, mainly the final embrace feat and it's 2nd in line final embrace horror (+ great & rapid grappler give you panicked gripped enemies who can't retaliate, with reach it's gets stupid)

A magus can fill your role quite nicely, as he has spells to buff, debuff, can support sneaky guys, and can be effective at all ranges of combat.

He may not become a blaster like a Wizard or Sorcerer, but you can reduce your arcane penalties by just leveling up.
Meaning, you can equip heavier armor over time, and take no arcane penalties.

My favorite part is that you can cast a spell, then whack someone to both do a melee attack, and do spell damage at the same time.

Whether you go as a Magus, Sorcerer or Wizard, I do suggest having the spell "Secluded Grimoire" from the start.

Grand Lodge

There are a lot of info on this if you search on “best necromancer” in the advice forum.

Dark Archive

Mysterious stranger gunslinger 1
Thug rogue (unchained if possible) 1
Cavalier (order of the cockatrice) 2
Bard (archaeologist if selfish) 16

Max out intimidate and make the scariest pirate captain that buffs the group, debuffs the enemy's, and can shoot you

Thanks for your replies.

Druid seems a fine option in any case. I don't think I'd go for a strictly aquatic companion - I'm sure we'll be underwater occasionally, but not entirely. In a nautical (vis-a-vis aquatic) game, fliers are appealing, if fragile and low damage.

I don't think it will be fun for anyone at the table to build to control 100+HD of undead. I'm not looking to build the "best necromancer" so much as a support pirate cleric (with all the divine goodies) for that party that leaves those options open. I'm just at a loss for ideas on how to build such a character.

You already have a bard for buffing & such, but if you really want another buffer/debuffer go cleric. He has both Water Walking and Water Breathing, which sound like tremendously usefull spells for a Pirate campaign. Also, Silence at 2nd is available to both classes... meaning you can both take one copy of the spell.

A druid gets Water Breathing, but not Water Walking; a bard gets neither.

Instead of taking Control Undead, try taking Turn Undead. It doesn't kill enemies, but it sure thins out crowds of them.

Hmm, the Cleric also gets Purify Food and Water as a cantrip, which could be very usefull on long sea trips...

They also get a few spells to turn water into booze!

I think you might have a point about the bard in that there's a lot of overlap on buffing with cleric, I suppose.

Between a witch and a bard, I'm not sure what niche to fill.

Character-wise, I know I'd like to play a full spellcaster of some kind and I have my story ideas in place. I'm just trying to find the mechanics to get excited about.

Grand Lodge

Here is another option that is an excelent controller:
Aquatic Sorcerer Surfer.
Seaborn Sorcerer for Skulls Shackles.
Take a trait that gives acrobatics as a class skill to make stunts while surfing ;)
Perhaps tatooed sorcerer will be a fitting pirate archtype?
If you think a divine class would be better, then the same concept with a wave oracle instead.

You could do worse than playing a Mesmerist. They're basically inverted Bards; instead of moderately buffing your whole group, your go-to will be severely debuffing a single enemy. They're also great for removing conditions, their spell list is geared for utility/party face-ing, and they're about as melee/ranged savvy as Bards.

Clerics are great for what you're aiming to do as a supporter/necromancer. Another angle to consider is the Spiritualist, which comes with its own Spirit companion (can be a flank buddy in Ectoplasmic form), and makes a pretty good necromancer, while also having party support spells.

The Brown Fur Transmuter Arcanist is a great full-caster, arcane supporter. You can target allies with Polymorph spells that are normally Target: Personal, so spells like Beast Shape, Giant Form, and Monstrous Physique can be used to dish out insane buffs that would normally be wasted on the squishy caster. Plus, since you're using the Wizard spell list, you'd only be slightly behind where a Cleric of the same level would be in terms of being a necromancer.

zza ni wrote:

you got no front line it seems.

i would actually go with druid.
if your going underwater a lot the BIG SQUID is excellent for many many things. i like setting it up with 3 int asap so it can take any feat it has requirements for and not only animal feats, mainly the final embrace feat and it's 2nd in line final embrace horror (+ great & rapid grappler give you panicked gripped enemies who can't retaliate, with reach it's gets stupid)

innovative idea. I LIKE IT A LOT.

when i played this path, i created a whip-master who did a lot of tripping at range, leaving our tanks to move in and finish prone opponents. We got boarded & in turn boarded a fleet of ships. Tripping the front line of attackers gave us a valuable advantage.

if i were going full caster i'd go enchanter wizard for controlling boarders/cyclopians/other crews or druid for sheer versatility. But a Witch with the sleeping hex, ability focus, accurred hex, split hex, spell penetration, greater spell penetration, fly hex & aerial maneuvers feats is my favorite.

Silver Crusade

@OP: I have little to suggest for YOUR character, but I do have a comment about your GROUP. Your GROUP seems unbalanced. This may cause trouble unless your GM soft-pedals all combats. A small change to your group composition may drastically improve combat effectiveness. The group you describe is:

You - currently unknown
Rogue - Squishy glass cannon
Ninja - squishy glass cannon
Witch - squishy crowd control & debuff
Bard - squishy support

Now evaluate that group via The Forge of Combat, which is basically Sun Tzu applied to Pathfinder. By that standard your group is not poorly balanced. Yet there's a basic problem:

Every PC is squishy! The squishy witch is an Anvil (aka Crowd Control), the squishy Bard is an Arm (aka Support), and the squishy rogue & ninja are both Hammers (aka DPS).

This group needs some tough nuts! Perhaps, whatever you bring to the table, don't be squishy.

Magda Luckbender wrote:

This group needs some tough nuts! Perhaps, whatever you bring to the table, don't be squishy.

I think your post put into words about my anxiety about what to bring to the table.

The basic roles are covered but spread out in an odd fashion. I don't expect the witch to be effective... But that archetype is awesome. Having two sneak attackers means we really rely on enabling sneak attack.

I'd like to play a prepared divine spellcaster of some sort, mostly because I enjoy the out of combat problem solving. I have better ideas for cleric than druid, but don't know how to make either true "front liners," especially because I prefer caster sorts.

Pirate theme seems to precludes investment in heavier armor until those problems are can be solved magically. Heavy martial investment in casters always feels awful once you hit the levels where your action is always casting. Maybe the traditional reach cleric works here, but pumping strength always feels "meh".

At the moment, I'm leaning toward a Bobo! Style bad touch cleric. High ac, touch attacks, and disables maybe? Investing in summoning also seems worthwhile just to put more bodies in the way, especially with a bard.

Grand Lodge

Here are some other thought.

2 rogue types are low accuracy classes. If they do not have sneak attack they become low dps melee classes.

Here is what I think will help the group the most.

Evangelist cleric. It fits your want for a prepared divine caster. You should take the animal domain. I would give the animal companion the bodyguard line of feats. This will take the heat of the rogues allowing them to stand a lot longer. The animal and the song will decrease the swingyness of the low accuracy high damage classes. Use shield companion on the animal companion by essentially doubling the animal HP you will have a very effective 'tank'.

Next, give your animal a menacing amulet which the rogues will also appreciate.

When you fight something immune to sneak attack cast divie favor on your animal and have them go to town.

Finally, I would build for archery. Divine favor, inspire and arrows (different materials, and ghost salts) will cover other things the group may be lacking.

You should have plenty of spell slots for utility and offensive spells so you can cover many roles for the group.

That is my 2 cents.

Seaaaaaan wrote:
Magda Luckbender wrote:

This group needs some tough nuts! Perhaps, whatever you bring to the table, don't be squishy.

I think your post put into words about my anxiety about what to bring to the table.

I think Magda is just plain right.

I can sympathise with being a player who likes to play casters forced into a front line role.

One suggestion, Summoner. You are a caster, half caster it is true, and your eidolon is the front liner.

Silver Crusade

@OP: Grandlounge isn't wrong. An Evangelist Cleric would perfectly fit the situation you describe. An Evangelist Cleric's overall flexibility allows you to fill in wherever your team is weak.

Pros of an Evangelist Cleric in this situation:
* Instead of healing damage, you prevent damage. This is the most efficient form of healing.

* You're a capable summoner even without spending feats. Summoning is terrific Battlefield Control. Summon if the Witch fails to cover the Battlefield Control role. Summons absorb damage, deny movement, inflict a little damage, and can be considered pre-healing. A 3rd level Summon Monster spell before a battle will often prevent more damage than a 3rd level healing spell would heal after the battle.

* You have the primary Bardic powers of a Bard of the same level. These powers affect Summons! Bardsong is one of the few ways to enhance a Lantern Archon, which you can also Summon. An enhanced Lantern Archon is a golem-bane.

* You are a full prepared divine spellcaster.

* You are the best buffer in the game. You combine Cleric buffs with Bard buffs. You increase your team's damage output while simultaneously reducing incoming damage.

* You can easily be an accomplished combatant. You can even be something of a main frontline melee fighter, although it's not a very good idea. Several times I got stuck filling that role in PFS play and it worked fine.

Cons of an Evangelist Cleric in this situation:
My main reservation seconding Evangelist this is that you'd want to be careful not to step on the Bard's toes, as you'll be just as good at Barding, better at spellcasting, and could chooose to simultaneously deal out big melee damage. Maybe don't do all those things, though.

There are multiple forms of bardsong, so your mechanical abilities don't clash. Discuss it.

My final reservation is squishyness. You will be very vulnerable to certain hard-hitting foes. While I know from experience that it's possible for a melee-focussed evangelist cleric to take on the role of Main Tank, it's neither easy nor optimal. It requires teamwork on your part, support from your team, and careful tactics. You might be better off, with such a squishy team, playing something with a hard carapace. Alternately, any PC ceases to be squishy when protected by an animal companion with it's own reach screen.

Suggested secondary build & role:
As a longtime Pathfinder GM I've observed that teams which field a credible reach screen tend to do better than teams which do not. Pike and shot tactics dominated historical warfare for centuries. Pathfinder models this effect with rules for reach and AoOs, but it's not explicitly discussed in the rule books.

Your party could really benefit from a defensive reach screen. Ideally both Evangelist Cleric and Bard carry a longspear. A reach screen will reduce incoming damage from those foes not distracted by Summons. Ideally your rogue and ninja hide nearby to gank things that get past both the Summons and the Reach Screen. Perhaps suggest that your Witch also summon - you two are equally good at it.

It takes very little character build resources to provide a respectable reach screen. Much of your melee damage is inflicted when it's not your turn. This means you can provide a defensive reach screen on the side while still doing your main thing on your own turn.

With a mere 14 STR, no feats, and a longspear it's possible for an Evangelist to self-buff into Clericzilla. E.g. At 5th level such a PC could easily buff themselves to attack once or twice per round at +11 to hit for average ~20 hp damage per hit.
That's stacking multiple buffs and using smart tactics. Don't do this too often, as your spells are usually best spent on team buffs.

It's also possible to build more for melee. In this situation that might be called for. A more capable reach fighter provides a stronger reach screen. Your team lacks a heavy-hitting melee fighter.

Action Economy is the big advantage to reach tactics. You do what you want on your own turn and inflict melee damage during the GM's turn. Ideally foes fear your AoOs enough to avoid them, thus reducing incoming damage to your party. That level of effectiveness requires more build investment, though.

This approach doesn't work with an Archery Cleric but combines well with a Bad Touch Cleric. Use the bad touch on your own turn, against foes who penetrate your reach screen, then dance away from them. This prevents some foes from landing a Full Attack, which reduces incoming damage to your team.

The theme here is reduce incoming damage. The best way to heal is to prevent damage in the first place. An Evangelist Cleric is terrific at reducing incoming damage. It's also terrible at healing damage that gets through. Do that out of combat with a wand of Cure Light Wounds.

Ideally someone else on your team switches to something a bit more durable. Until that happens, a well-built Evangelist Cleric can fill in pretty well.

Grand Lodge

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@Magda re squishiness

I have tried to consider that. He is a more detailed breakdown.

A ranged or caster cleric should be able to avoid most damage. With Shield companion you effectively double the animal HP.

Take a level 7 tiger with bodyguard line of feats will have 59 hp so they can tank 118. Add an additional 35 hp for defending bone.

A raging barbarian with 18 con before raging has hp 89 with an additional 14 while raging.

Why bodyguard?

If the gm is smart they will focus fire. If they focus on the rogues the Animal can take an attack to spread out the damage, all the while the animal is also increasing the ac of the rogues. This uses no PC actions. If the enemy focuses on the animal, well you can see how long it will stand. The right animal can also have great AC.

Spreading out damage also makes your few channels go further because they have more taregets.

Thank you all for your replies. I need to get this character ready to play by tomorrow so I've been reading up and wracking my brain!

I'd looked at Evangelist - it was on my list to play last time I was playing PF. I don't think I want to step on the toes of the bard, here. I understand we might coordinate to do different things mechanically and that the option is strong (especially with summoning), but I suppose it is my preference to leave that alone.

The Summoner suggestion might be on point. I've dragged my feet long enough deciding that I think the GM is really expecting me to play a divine character (and it seems to be important to him to know ahead of time).

@Magda. I'm totally with you on the strategy front, and I've read some of those posts during my research!

I think at this point, I'm going to play:

1. A bad touch cleric likely including trickery/deception for some "active mitigation."

Madness seems excellent here - the control spells are great, but the 1st level domain power seems fun both in and out of combat and the 8th level aura is nutty. I'm sure I'll be holding a longspear some of the time, but in a pirate game with free weapon expertise (and agile maneuvers, as long as you're using a finesse weapon), not taking advantage of a campaign focus on dex seems a waste. The Lantern King and Sivanah appeal to me on a flavor level.

OTOH, Grandmother Spider has great flavor, is worshiped in the region, and grants great unique spell rules (Silent image! Web! Spider climb on a pirate ship!). Darkness and Trickery allow some evasion "tanking" and grant OK spells in general.

2. The above really lacks the ability to build into summons the way I'd like (Sacred Summons, by most readings, does nothing for TN and has little to offer CN, even with Summon Neutral Monsters). So, I'd give up on my dreams of necromancy and embrace CG. I've actually never done the Milani or Desna thing, but I feel like I'd be missing out on the opportunity to put the SKULLS and Skulls and Shackles. Alternatively, I could embrace my evil side completely. I'll ask the GM which way the party is leaning.

3. Some...sort of oracle that can do one of those two things pretty well? Spirit Guide can get a lot of work in, and a cursed sailor is right on theme. If I'm honest, the reason I haven't yet played a cleric is because I hate the "dead levels" at even levels and the complete lack of features after 8th. I like having stuff to look forward to! I have no idea how to build an oracle and spontaneously casting from the cleric list seems a bit painful, though.

Grand Lodge

9th level prepared divine caster which is not squishy...
My best bet would be on a wildshaping Druid with a tough animal compagnion - one with swimspeed as well as climbing to fit on a ship... a Giant Constrictor Snake perhaps?

if you want the druid for companion but cleric for buffs and heal. some cleric domains grant companions. just take them as a cleric (might need boon companion to get up to druid level but that much should be expected.)

Grand Lodge

The 'active mitigation' build in my opinion is a dual-cursed oracle.

From there you have a battle if you want a good reach build.

Lunar for a great 'wild shaping' animal companion build.

Those are the obvious 2 for non-squishy. If you go lunar see my previous animal companion build to fix you, groups, softness problem.

spontaneously casting from the cleric list seems a bit painful, though

It not bad especially if you play a human for the FCB. Grab a buff spell, and defensive spell at each level then fill the rest with the utility you want. Grad some scrolls, wands and a Mnemonic Vestment and you are fine.

A melee cleric leans really hard on divine favour/power or combos like quicken divine favour righteous might. Oracles simply have more of them.

Dark Archive

You have sneak-attack dependent combatants and no beefy front line. Consider something that can provide both, like a summoner with a combat eidolon (or Master Summoner to flood the field with extra bodies). If you want more skills, then maybe Inquisitor, with either Sacred Huntmaster or Monster Tactician archetypes.

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