Character Roles

Why take a Character Role?

This isn't explicitly stated in the rules, as such, but most character classes are created around the idea of taking one or more roles in the party - that is, classes have specific things they are effective at doing. For example, the basic Fighter tends to have the Damage-Dealing role - they're good at hurting enemies (and, alas, not much else). Spheres of Power is an open-ended system that's very helpful for creating characters in almost any role - but if you spread your talents too thinly, you may find that you're less-effective at your role than you'd really like. This guide introduces the basic roles in the game, their associated sub-roles, the important concepts of the role, and offers some suggestions for creating characters who are effective in that area.

Note that the majority of characters are not limited to taking just one role - most good classes have at least two roles they perform well in, and will often want to invest in doing well at both of those jobs instead of one to the exclusion of the other.

A traditional, well-balanced party typically consists of a Damage Dealer/Tank, a Damage Dealer/Skill Monkey, a Healer/Buffer, and a Battlefield Controller/Debuffer.

Base Concept: All Day Character

Roles That Are Commonly This Include: Damage Dealer, Skill Monkey, Tank

An All Day Character, as the name implies, is a character that is capable of performing its role reasonably well, regardless of how many encounters and opportunities to spend resources that character has had. For example, a well-made Tank with sturdy armor and some good bonuses to their Saving Throws is probably going to be able to perform their role as long as they can get healing on a regular basis.

To compensate for the value of being able to perform their role over and over, All Day Characters tend to have a lower power ceiling than Limited Adventuring Day Characters. Spheres of Power characters typically fall under this, regardless of role - while it's possible to burn through all of your Spell Points in a day, such characters will likely still have a number of free abilities to use.

Base Concept: Limited Adventuring Day Character

Roles That Are Commonly This Include: Battlefield Controller, Buffer, Debuffer, Healer

A Limited Adventuring Day Character has some kind of significant limit on how effective they can be each day in the game, usually represented by a cap on the use of their abilities. For example, there may be a limit to the amount of Hit Points they can heal each day, how many buffs they can provide, or how many negative effects they can inflict on their enemies. Limited Adventuring Day Characters tend to have powerful effects, but the cap on uses means they need to carefully decide when and where to expend their energy.

Casters in the standard magic system of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (often referred to as "Vancian" casters) tend to fall into this category.

Role: Battlefield Controller

Main Things To Raise: Type of Control Abilities, Number of Control Ability Uses

Related Sphere Abilities: The Destruction Sphere's Energy Wall, the Creation sphere, many powers from the Dark, Illusion, and Nature spheres, and undead controlling abilities from the Death sphere

The Battlefield Controller is a character focused on somehow affecting the battlefield and pushing enemies to act in certain ways. They may do this by creating areas that are difficult for foes to move through, summoning physical obstructions that force enemies into particular areas, or even calling up additional allies to fill space.

The common trend here is that the battlefield is something they want to be under their control. Ultimately, the Battlefield Controller acts in a supporting role, and they're at their best when they manipulate things to help everyone else accomplish their roles more effectively. If one party member is focused on Sneak Attacks, they'd try to get someone into a flanking position so those Sneak Attacks could happen. If there's a big horde of foes, they'd try to limit their advance to just a few at a time, usually with the party's Tank in the way.

As such, Battlefield Controllers should know what other people want to do before they make their ability selections.

Sub-Role: Combat Maneuver Specialist

The Combat Maneuver Specialist uses one or more of the game's Combat Maneuvers to manipulate their foes and the battlefield as a whole. They might grapple foes to pin them in place, Bull Rush them into dangerous terrain, or Sunder their equipment to make them easier to take down. Combat Maneuver Specialists can quickly fall into a different Role based on the details of their build, but most ultimately end up being versatile enough that they end up controlling at least the part of the battlefield in the area immediately around them.

Role: Buffer

Main Things to Raise: Types of Buffs, Number of Buffs per Day

Related Sphere Abilities: Some choices from the Enhancement and Time spheres, the War sphere

The Buffer is a supporting character who focuses on directly improving the abilities of their allies, usually allowing them to be more effective at whatever their role is. Buffers often prefer to help their allies right before a battle begins, then switch to another role once the battle actually starts - for example, after giving everyone some added defense before they open a door, they might switch to dealing damage once the fight starts.

Some classes are Self Buffers who can only raise their own abilities. Others are Group Buffers who can affect anyone in their party with their abilities. Buffers usually have a limit on the number of strong buffs they can provide each day, and this is true in Spheres of Power. If they're not concentrating on maintaining one buff, they're probably spending their Spell Points to keep things going for awhile.

If a class comes with a built-in buffing ability - such as the Arcane Pool of the Magus - it's usually expected that they'll be using it as early and as often as possible in fights.

Role: Damage Dealer

Main Things To Raise: Attack Accuracy, Damage Per Round

Related Sphere Abilities: The Destruction sphere, the Conjuration, Enhancement, and Telekinesis spheres (if focused on dealing damage)

The Damage Dealer is focused on causing HP damage to enemies, and will usually be the most capable member of the party at doing so. However, regardless of type, no Damage Dealer can afford to focus solely on increasing their damage - after all, they need to be able to hit opponents, or they won't be able to fulfill their role. Full BAB classes are likely to hit with their first strike almost all the time - iterative attacks are increasingly less likely to be successful. Mid BAB classes often have abilities to improve their accuracy, but only for a certain number of attacks per-day. Low BAB classes should stick to targeting Touch AC, as they're not intended to hit foes in other ways.

Damage Dealers come in a few different forms:

Sub-Role: Blaster

A Blaster is a Damage Dealer who specializes in dealing energy damage instead of physical damage - this is usually, but not always, magical in nature. Blasters tend to attack from a distance (making them generally similar to a Ranged Damage Dealer), and have to contend with Energy Resistance (and often Spell Resistance) instead of Damage Reduction.

Blasters tend to make one attack per-round, targeting Touch AC, making them the preferred role for Low BAB characters who still want to deal damage. The basic Destructive Blast of the Destruction sphere is a good example of a Blaster ability.

Sub-Role: Melee Damage Dealer

The Melee Damage Dealer specializes in close-combat, usually from one square away from their opponents. Melee Damagers are often Full Attackers, so they lack mobility on the battlefield - they want to get into position and stay there. Some characters will use "Reach" weapons, which are generally considered Melee even if they allow for attacks from an additional square away.

Many enemies can only attack in Melee, which means that a Melee Damage Dealer is likely to take more attacks than most party members. For that reason, they often try to get the Tank role as well, allowing them to endure whatever their foes throw at them.

Melee Damage Dealers tend to make multiple attacks per-round, targeting Normal AC.

Sub-Role: Ranged Damage Dealer

The Ranged Damage Dealer focuses on attacking enemies from a safe distance. They may or may not be limited by ammunition, though most characters who rely on ammunition have a large reserve on hand. Ranged Damage Dealers generally don't have to worry about surviving enemy blows, so they're able to select more offensive options - while doing even more damage can be appealing, it's important to remember that without someone to block the enemy's advance, foes could simply run up and cut right through their weaker defenses.

Ranged Damage Dealers tend to make multiple attacks per-round, targeting Normal AC.

Concept: Attack Accuracy

Attack Accuracy refers to the chance that a Damage Dealer will actually hit a foe with their attack. If a character is only able to hit their target half of the time, their effective Damage Per Round is halved - which, of course, is clearly a bad thing for anyone in this Role. Attack Accuracy is typically expressed as a percentage (as in 'With your attack bonus, your first strike has a 75% chance to hit').

Statistically, a well-made character with full BAB who has Power Attack can afford to take that accuracy penalty - the added damage outweighs the slightly fewer amount of attacks that will hit.

Concept: Damage Per Round

Damage Per Round is an expression of the average amount of damage that a particular character can do if they get off as many attacks as they'd like. For example, a Destructive Blast from the Destruction sphere normally does 1d6 dice of damage at every odd level, which gives them an average of 3.5 damage per-dice. A 7th-level Incanter would have a normal damage per round of 4d6, or 14 (3.5 x 4). Of course, many abilities exist to increase the damage a character can do, and any character focused on dealing damage will almost certainly be taking a few of those.

Damage Per Round is strongly affected by Attack Accuracy. As a good rule of thumb, however, a well-built character with full BAB can expect their first attack to hit almost all the time, while a character with low BAB can expect to consistently hit with touch attacks around the time their total attack bonus reaches +8.

Concept: Full Attacker

The Full Attacker is a Damage Dealer who tries to make as many attacks as they can each round. Each additional attack that they manage to land offers a chance to increase their Damage Per Round, often by a significant amount. High BAB characters like the Armorist and Mageknight tend to be Full Attackers, as do characters with class options (like the Monk's Flurry of Blows) that allow them to make additional attacks.

Since most characters cannot move and take more than one attack in a round, Full Attackers generally get into a position they want and stay there, limiting their mobility to five-foot steps.

Concept: Nova

A 'Nova' is when a character expends a fairly limited resource in order to significantly increase their offensive power for a short period of time. The official Magus class is built around this concept, and in particular casting damage-dealing spells (like Shocking Grasp) alongside their normal weapon strikes. Most Nova characters hit hard, but don't have the kind of lasting strength to fight at their full output all day long.

Spheres of Power characters can Nova fairly well by using the Energy Blade talent from the Destruction sphere, as well as the Improved Energy Blade feat. Melee attackers should also consider the Melee Blaster feat, which allows them to do this without provoking an Attack of Opportunity. This is cheaper than most forms of Nova attacks - because no Spell Points have to be spent on it unless you want to improve your damage - but it does consistently use your Swift Action and prevents the use of other class abilities that rely on that. Remember, Low- and Mid-Casters generally have weaker Destructive Blasts, so this isn't as powerful as it might sound at first.

Role: Debuffer

Main Things To Raise: Types of Debuffs, Strength of Debuffing DCs, Number of Debuffs per Day, Knowledge Skills to Identify Weaknesses

Related Sphere Abilities: Negative effects from the Fate, Light, Time, and Weather spheres

The Debuffer is the opposite of the Buffer - they're focused on inflicting various effects on foes to make them more vulnerable and easier to defeat. Debuffers often use abilities that target their foes' Saving Throws - Fortitude, Reflex, and Willpower. Knowing what saving throw is 'bad' for an opponent is a key part of being a successful Debuffer, so they (or someone else in the party) needs to have the ability to identify the traits of foes in order to be as effective as possible.

Much like Battlefield Controllers, Debuffers often want to hurt foes in ways that make their own allies more effective - for example, reducing the accuracy of a foe's attacks can help a Tank endure their damage, while limiting their ability to move can help a Damage Dealer get (and stay) in position.

Role: Healer

Main Things To Raise: Effectiveness of healing abilities, types of things that can be healed

Related Sphere Abilities: The Life sphere

The Healer is important for every party because no recovery means the group will be quickly worn down by whatever they encounter - and it's a generally accepted fact of the game that in-battle healing is a poor use of the party's resources. Essentially, killing foes faster means less damage is taken in the first place, and thus fewer resources need to be spent on recovery.

Most Healers are focused on fixing Hit Point damage, but parties also need to be capable of recovering from various conditions and ailments (poison, disease, insanity, and so on). It isn't always worth spending Magic Talents or Spells Known on the ability to recover from various conditions, though Spheres of Power often improves basic healing done when characters learn to recover other conditions. You may want to look into getting consumables (potions, scrolls, wands, etc.) for healing - or perhaps have somebody use the Conjuration sphere to create an ally that focuses exclusively on recovery abilities.

It's worth noting that a pure Healer may actually be a good choice in campaigns that feature undead as particularly common foes. Healing usually uses Positive Energy, which harms undead, so characters built in this role can double as effective Damage Dealers for as long as their daily powers last.

Role: Skill Monkey

Main Things to Raise: Number of Skill Points, Bonuses to Skills

Related Sphere Abilities: The Fate sphere, some uses of the Telekinesis sphere

The Skill Monkey is a character who has a particularly high number of skill points - usually 8+INT per-level - and a wide variety of class skills. While some skills (such as Climb) are easily replaced by magic, other talents like Disable Device, Perception, and various Knowledge skills offer benefits that can't be easily obtained in other ways. Skill Monkeys have enough points to invest in many different areas, and most parties will want to have at least one of them to help overcome any skill-based challenges they face.

Role: Tank

Main Things To Raise: HP, Defenses (Armor Class, CMD, Saving Throws)

Related Sphere Abilities: The Protection sphere, some Time sphere abilities

The Tank is a character who can get right up to enemies and endure their attacks, usually through some combination of high HP and a high Armor Class. Some may also take advantage of special abilities that make them even harder to hit, such as various powers from the Protection sphere or the After Image talent of the Time sphere. While Tanks are usually dealing with attacks that threaten their normal AC, they also have to contend with the occasional attack targeting Touch AC, Combat Maneuvers from enemies, and spells that require them to make Saving Throws - as a result, capable tanks have good defenses in all of these areas.

The Tank's main role on the battlefield is to threaten enemies and encourage attacks to come their way - every attack directed against them is something that's not threatening their allies. Simply standing ahead of everyone else can help encourage enemies to come their way, especially if they can attack anyone who tries to move past them. They also do well if they can take advantage of choke points (physically blocking enemies from moving past), and are most effective if they can work with a Battlefield Controller.

Some Tanks intentionally provoke attacks from enemies - for example, getting foes to make attacks of opportunity against them so their friends can move safely past.

Role: Utility

Main Things To Raise: Variety of Utility abilities

Related Sphere Abilities: Most anything that isn't combat-related

Utility characters are a little different from most roles. Unlike other classes, they have almost no focus on combat itself - rather, they're focused on overcoming various skill challenges (much like a Skill Monkey) and otherwise helping the party accomplish a wide variety of goals. Things like hauling vast loads of treasure, safely reaching esoteric destinations, and crafting magical items tend to fall into this role.

Utility is as much about creativity as actual character power. For example, even the basic Fighter can often carry a variety of tools and use those to help them get where they need to go, while intelligent use of spells and similar abilities can often be the key to resolving issues. As such, nearly any character can fulfill this role in addition to their other roles if they have the right equipment on hand. With that in mind, don't focus all of your attention on magical gear - review your options for mundane gear, too, because that's often where you'll find some of the best utility options.

Sub-Role: Face

The party "Face" is the member responsible for social interactions. This is something of a hybrid of the Skill Monkey and Utility roles - generally, skill points are needed to do it well (with points typically invested in Bluff, Diplomacy, and/or Intimidate), but its main use is helping the party in ways other than solving an immediate problem. For example, the Face may try to negotiate for a higher reward, gather information that can help the party make a decision, or negotiate with an NPC so the party doesn't have to fight them. Faces are almost always characters with Charisma as a primary ability score, since they get natural bonuses to their social skills.

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