There are three of us playing, plus the GM, so I planned around us being able to fill most/all roles, without the GM having to decrease the adventure difficulty.
For the Age of Ashes campaign though, I decided I would play a front line polearm fighter. I had an idea in mind that I tried a couple of times in small first level DnD5e adventures but never leveled up. As Pathfinder 2e has largely fixed the power disparity between fighters and casters, now seemed the right time to give it another try.
He would be fairly quiet, so the other players could take more of the spotlight, yet would help push decision making, which would be good to keep things moving. I should note here that the other two players are my eldest two kids who have been playing table top RPGs with my wife and I for a couple of years now. The campaigns are in part to encourage and help develop them as players, decision makers and public speakers (and it’s working well), as much as to give them the chance to enjoy this great hobby.
Combat and Non-Combat Roles
I worked out three main roles in the basic party structure; essentially, front, mid and back line. This could mean a party of a tank in front, a flex fighter/caster in the middle and a full caster at the back. Other permutations were possible.
Out of this came the decision to also run two more campaigns so we all get a regular chance to play each of the three roles (front/mid/back) to keep things feeling fresh. We kicked each campaign off after the preceding adventure was a few levels in, effectively grandfathering the groups. The idea would then be in a year or so when campaigns started to complete we would begin a new adventure at first level.
I wrote out the other roles characters can provide. In combat, they are damage, control, buff/debuff. These are often aligned to class features. Outside of combat the roles are more aligned to ability scores.
Dexterity: stealth, thievery, acrobatics
Constitution: nothing (maybe holding your breath could be a con skill)
Intelligence: arcana, occult, lore, society and crafting
Wisdom: medicine, wilderness (nature and survival), religion
Charisma: deception/diplomacy, intimidation
We shared these skills out as best we could based on each character’s primary and secondary ability scores. This led to some interesting combinations, such as the thief in our second campaign whose assassin background gave them good medical knowledge. Wisdom as the secondary score for rogues boosts their perception, very useful as the scout and trap finder. You don’t want your emergency healer (e.g. cleric) to risk triggering traps. Rogue’s large number of skill feats means they can pick up the medicine chain (assurance, continual recovery, ward medic…) without sacrificing skill feats more related to their class, such as catfall.
Campaign 1 – Age of Ashes
Front: Human reach weapon fighter
Picked up the non-combat skills and skill feats around athletics.
Mid: Human cloistered cleric of Sarenrae
Medicine chain and trained in religion. We chose human as their race so they could pick up light armour training to be the backup fighter and give them some extra protection when they stepped up at the start of combat to launch their 15 foot cone of Dazzling Flash before taking a step back the next round.
Back: Elven maestro bard
At the back is our elf bard, serving as the primary caster (damage, buff and control) and picking up the intelligence, dexterity and charisma skills, making them our wizard, rogue, lore expert and the party mouth/negotiator.
The extra benefit of the secondary fighter is to be able to rearrange the party order (front/back/mid) when there is a risk of being flanked, so the bard is better protected.
Our other campaign configurations are:
Campaign 2 (Saltmarsh adapted to PF2e)
Front: Wetlander lizard giant instinct barbarian (Godzilla, as I think of them)
Picks up athletics and, like the SBS and Navy Seals, is able to fight underwater without penalty for around twenty-five minutes.
Mid: Halfling thief medic/assassin
As above, picked up the dexterity skills and the medicine chain, also crafting and tea lore… because rogues with decent intelligence get enough to buy a flavor skill (and as an Englishman, tea is flavorful).
Back: Ancient elf imperial sorcerer with wizard dedication.
Intelligence and charisma skills, including arcana, occultism, deception, diplomacy and various lore skills. Also gets a floating lore skill, from Ancient Elf, that can be changed during daily preparations and a recall knowledge focus spell from imperial sorcerer.
Campaign 3 (My eldest son’s campaign world in PF2e)
Front: Dwarf strength-based champion redeemer of Trudd (protection domain)
Trained in athletics and medicine, focusing on the medicine skill feats chain at earlier levels.
Front(/mid): Half-elf dexterity-based champion redeemer of Chaldira Zuzaristan (trickery domain)
Picked up the dexterity skill set, in so doing doubling as the party ranger/rogue with scouting, wilderness lore and trap disarming. With dexterity as their key score, they can pull back to midline and launch short bow attacks if the party faces a multi-ranged mob.
Back: Gnome cloistered cleric of Yuelral (knowledge domain)
The cleric therefore has a few decent lore skills, in addition to arcana, religion and occultism. With no true mid line, the back line cleric is close enough to the front, for their own protection, and to be able to emanate an emergency area heal, if required. The champions will first use their renewable lay on hands, though likely at the cost of a strike.
The champions start with two focus points due to also picking up their deity’s domain, so can cast two lay on hands per fight, however the protection and trickery focus spells are also very useful, depending on the situation.
Most/all of the party will later pick up the battle medicine skill feat for an extra combat health boost. Yuelral is an elven arcana god, offering the knowledge domain.
I have loved clerics and domains going back to the speciality priests’ spheres in Faiths and Avatars and again with domains in Faiths and Pantheons. I wanted to create a religious party, using the different skills, domains and weapons to create a mix of templars, hospitallers and consecrated harriers (the last being a DnD3/3.5 ranger-style prestige class). With Gods and Magic slow to deliver in the UK, I held off until the info started to drop onto the PF2e sites, finishing off the builds when Gods and Magic arrived. It’s a great book, which allows you to make a cleric with almost any combination of bonus skills, weapons and domains.
Expanding for Larger Parties
If I was building a bigger party, for example for five players, I would stick to the same idea of front, mid and back. Like a football manager, it is then a question of formation; caster solo at the back: two-two-one, healer in the middle: two-one-two, mid-line of flex fighter/casters: one-three-one, or some other combination?
I would then split the skills again by ability score, either doubling up, so characters could aid each other, or giving each character a narrow focus so they could better specialise with their skill feats.
We have since got the Pathfinder Game Mastery Guide and I think a campaign starting even earlier, at level zero would be brilliant. When I next run something that will likely be the kick-off point. Reminds me of Rookie Warrior and Apprentice Cleric in Goblin Slayer (see episode 5, ‘Adventures and Daily Life’).
As per the first of our Age of Ashes GM diary posts, we had a prequel adventure to test out the configuration so we could make any necessary changes, tweaks or just starting from scratch, before committing to this party that we might play for a year or more through the full Adventure Path.