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This here campaign I'm about to unfold is going to feature 2-3 players, 2 of which definitely want to get spellcasting characters and the third is very likely to go down the same path.

Q: How do I negate the obvious complications caused by lack of mechanical balance within the party? For example, the party might find it difficult to engage numerous melee-oriented enemies. Stealth/melee/etc bases are, IMHO, tackled by their respective classes more efficiently.

Here are some suggestions I have:

  1. I could add non-spellcasting NPCs to the party. This will probably happen anyway, since it's a great story-driving element and many encounters are just not easily suited for such small parties.
  2. I could enhance the player characters' abilities by using custom spells, scrolls and various equipment. Occasionally, someone would be able to execute an action usually avoided by wizards and sorcerers, like using their stealth or fighting their fight in a gory melee. That would change the basic idea behind classes and shift my characters towards the all-around competent adventurers capable of using magic. My players aren't experienced with roleplaying games at all, so it shouldn't pose any extra difficulties due to re-learning.
  3. I could try and adjust the encounters in a way that would enable more fun and efficient hell-raising. For example, various objects like magic levers could be interacted with, leading to curious and rather destructive results; some monsters could be more vulnerable to a particular kind of magic (are goblins afraid of fire?) and be easier to deal with.
  4. I could encourage my players to be creative about their play and seek more unexpected but practical ways of doing things. After all, running around casting spells alone doesn't make a wizard - you'd better have something else stored in your head.
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I've found a question that enumerates the problems with all-spellcaster parties:… This question is different since I'm looking for solutions. – Alex Agapov Mar 8 at 21:28
can you expand on what you see as the "obvious complications caused by lack of mechanical balance?" We may end up with people proceeding from different assumptions.... – nitsua60 Mar 9 at 0:15
There are MANY MANY different kinds of casters, even a single class (like Wizard) can assume many different roles depending on their spell selections (Abjuration? Blasting? Crowd Control? Summoning?). There are also "half" casters (Bards, Paladins, Rangers...). Do you have more insight into what your players will play than just "caster"? Are some interested in Gish characters (mixing melee and casting)? – Matthieu M. Mar 9 at 10:48
Please answer in answers, not comments. – mxyzplk Mar 10 at 0:34
up vote 24 down vote accepted

An all spell caster party already has balance built into it.

They can pretty much do whatever they want. Situation arises where they need a lot of meat shields? Summoning spells or animating the dead. A bunch of magical weapons and armor are coming their way and threatening to beat them dead? Dispel and Antimagic Zones. Lost of casters attacking them? Counterspell!

Spell casters are incredibly versatile. Because of this, balance is going to be based on how many spells they're casting per encounter, as well as the availability of wands, rods, scrolls and staves.

After that, just leave it up to them. You may find sending a half dozen orcs at them is a joke and they easily blow them away. So the next group staggers their approach to not get caught by AoE.

Ultimately, they're going to either breeze through situations by expending spells like crazy and saving nothing, or they'll think their way through problems and be conservative. The balance will happen. It just depends on how you run the encounters and whether or not they seek a resting zone when they're depleted, or just getting on towards depleted.

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This answer applies for all compositions, I ran through a campaign with my friends that consisted of nothing but bards and rogues. The balance is already built in, it is up to the players to use creativity to adapt to each scenario. – DanceSC Mar 9 at 3:31
+1 Exactly this. You make up for it by either covering your bases some other way or covering one base -so well- that it gets you through. It's not up to the DM to make the party not-stupid. – Ethan The Brave Mar 9 at 13:36
Thanks! I didn't get enough insight in Pathfinder caster classes yet, which might just be the issue here. If casters really are that versatile, I doubt there would be any trouble making the game enjoyable. I will look into it. – Alex Agapov Mar 9 at 15:02
Since your players are new to role playing, I would make sure you mention to them that while the party is viable, it may take some learning to work well. It also depends on what kind of casters they want to be. Having a Druid or Cleric will definitely help when it comes to melee encounters, Wizard or Sorcerers are super versatile, and Bards are a good combination of support and stealth. A Wizard+Bard+Cleric party would be able to handle most encounters, for example. – D.Spetz Mar 9 at 18:19
To further elaborate on what @D.Spetz said, if the party can get together and create their characters collaboratively they'll be able to build a cohesive balanced party and that will go a long way towards helping out the DM. It is one thing to have 3 spellcasters. It is something else entirely to have 3 healers. If they talk to each other before hand and decide, that one person will concentrate on big damage, one on stealth and versatile spells, one on something else, it will be easier for them than having 3 people who can launch fireballs. – Shane Mar 9 at 22:37

Pathfinder is a copy of DnD 3.5

Although in Dnd 3.5 role of spellcaster is a bit blurred, I think they still could be traced back to magic-user of ODnD.

In those ancient times classes behaved somewhat like miniatures from Napoleonic wargames:

  1. Fighter = columns of soldiers. Produce a constant output of power.

  2. Mage = artillery. Devastating "peak" damage but it is not constantly avaliable and needs ammo.

  3. Rogue = calvary. Devastating when flanking, but otherwise weak.

That was a balance of magic-users - they are limited in their 'ammo'. Some GMs allow parties to move through megadungeon 15 minutes, meet a monster, wizards drop their nukes, kill something big and party rests for a day.

But letting you players have a comfortable resting day in the middle of living hell is violation of design concept for magic-users.

It is a root of many claims about "wizards are overpowered" "exponential growth of wizards, linear growth of warriors".

The intended way of diving to darkness - is feeling of unknown, creeping sounds in the dark, alive labyrinth, and danger of Wandering Monster and limited resources - torches, food, magic items, spells, time to regenerate spells.

Thus, a party consisting of all mages can be vulnerable. Put a stress on them. As Justin said - embrace a wandering monster ^ ^

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Time is not an issue. Or at least it's only an issue until the Rope Trick lasts long enough to recover spells within it. It's 1h/lvl, but there are many ways to boost one's caster level so as soon as level 6 or 7 you can get the required 8 hours of rest. And if the casters have access to Heward's fortifying bedroll (3,000 gp a pop), 1/day they can get their beauty's sleep in 1 hour instead of 8 hours. – Matthieu M. Mar 9 at 10:02
This does not appear to try to answer the question. – mxyzplk Mar 9 at 14:26
You completely fail to account for just how versatile the 3.x casters are, especially clerics and druids. This non-answer falls victim to the same assumption made by the question! – Shalvenay Mar 9 at 23:15
Perhaps my answer looks like I underestimate the versatility of casters. My bad if that looks that way. I tried to be short and expressive. ^_^ What I meant by 'nukes' could be something like Charm. It is difficult to call that spell narrow in scope. When you call my answer a non-answer - well you may have that opinion and that could be respected. But I prefer to think that my answer is carefully and respectfully showing tools and methods of thought that are useful - one by one. Being decoupled they are easily compatible with any framework. Game is flexible - so must be GM tools. Cheers ^_^ – Jaiden Snow Mar 10 at 17:38

Honestly, you would need to do next to nothing if it's a campaign that you yourself created. I believe that this is the case because Pathfinder already tilts the game in the party's favor and Pathfinder is a pretty adaptable game.

When I started making my own pathfinder dungeons a few years ago, I had some trouble understanding the math behind CR and began scouring the internet for explanations. I eventually found the suggestions made by someone by the name of "Chemlak" in this article. According to the guides posted by "Ajaugunas" on the website Everyman Gaming, the math behind Challenge Rating stacks the battles in the party's favor. In fact, if the DM crafted a CR1 encounter, a single, level 1 party member could complete it with relative ease. So, in the end, using what Pathfinder calls an "epic" encounter, your party (considering its size) should be able to scrape by at the worst (since, ya know, all spellcasters have an extremely limited amount of spells per day), or you can use "Ajaugunas"'s rules of 2 or 4 if you feel they are competent enough.

Moreover, as the game progresses, the party can build their individual characters however they want. There are a multitude of feats that the characters can buy into, not to mention each class gets its own gimmick as it levels up. Moreover, the game isn't just about the battles, there is room for discovery, mystery and drama that all present their own obstacles. The character sheets aren't just how much damage that they deal or take, as you began to play with in your third option, there are a multitude of skills like climb and UseMagicDevice that only get better as the characters progress.

In the end, this is your campaign, just personally tailor each dungeon to test whatever skills and abilities that the party has and you should do fine.

P.S.: If you are concerned about how the party role-plays, you can always ask them to roll for a career when they first make their characters. I feel that this gives the players a good notion about who their character is and how they react to things, not to mention their profession, craft and whatever other skills they have.

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Your advice to avoid wizards is... Odd? I mean, there are a variety of possible reasons to ban them, but "they're not very good" isn't usually on the list. Wizard is generally agreed to be a tier 1 class, meaning that it's one of the most powerful classes in the game at any given level - even at level 1, a single wizard spell can change the outcome of an encounter. What leads you to believe wizards aren't good for much? – GMJoe Mar 8 at 22:49
I'll edit my statement. I misread the Wizard page and thought that they only got 4 feats throughout the campaign – Areadbhair Mar 9 at 1:23
To a fighter, feats are bread and butter; To a wizard, they're icing on the cake. Feats are more valuable to some classes than others, so the number of feats a class gets is a very unreliable measure of its relative strength and versatility. – GMJoe Mar 9 at 2:13

The OP made an assumption that more than one answerer here has fallen prey to, and that is that all of the 3.5e and PF casters fit the same mold: namely, a powerful-but-squishy, melee-adverse type who can dish out pain, but has trouble taking it when things get up close and personal, doesn't have access to utility skills, and is very limited in effective rounds/day. (In other words, an artillery cannon.)

However, you do not have to go far to see where this breaks down. While the wizard and sorcerer fit this mold, they are the only baseline (3.5e PHB, but the advice applies to PF as well) classes with more than half-casting that do so. The Bard gets access to many utility skills in addition to what can be described as "3/4ths" casting, with access to spells of both arcane and divine origin; also, Bards have enough melee ability to fall under the gish heading.

Worse yet for those who believe that throwing casters into a melee will subdue them, a well-built Cleric can hold their own in melee even without a full round of wards (buffs), and with the proper metamagic feats, can have those wards up all day long from a single casting. Worse yet, there is the Druid. Between the ability to Wild Shape their way into mauling their foes, a full spell list that they can use while shaped if their character is at all properly constructed, and the ability to bring what in essence is a full-blown Fighter along with them in the form of an animal companion, a properly constructed Druid can take on encounter after encounter without even stopping to think about "what do I do if I run out of spells?"

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Thanks! Really, caster classes aren't that weak. I should take it into account – Alex Agapov Mar 14 at 8:37

What's with all the "I could..."? Let the player's solve the problem. Surely they can hire some muscle or recruit some clerical allies without you having to hold their hands through the process?

Unless they're real newbies there's no need to force them to run their party any way than their own way.

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They are real newbies, that's the point. I must create the adventure for them and at least display their potential abilities. As you probably know, new players tend to be passive and neglect any opportunities to change the game flow. As a seasoned novice myself, I still do that a lot. – Alex Agapov Mar 14 at 8:40
Moreover, my players' rather extensive MMORPG experience is extremely likely to influence their understanding of caster classes. They might even design their characters in a way that would negate all the "versatility" people talk so much about. So I really think I should guide them a bit, mainly to unchain their imagination. – Alex Agapov Mar 14 at 8:44
Experience differs. I find newbies to be the most proactive of players, although of course they miss many subtleties. On the other hand I don't tend to play with people who play a lot of computer games. In any case, simply talk to them in that case. Trying to second guess them by modifying the game wholesale is not going to be as clear a help to them and establishes precedents that you might not want to continue with in the longer term. – Nagora Mar 14 at 11:13
See what you mean. Talking to them directly before the game should help; I just don't believe the players should adapt completely on their own - making the process enjoyable is a mutual effort in my opinion. So why not change the game a bit and see what follows? – Alex Agapov Mar 14 at 12:55

I agree with those that say that a spellcasting party is (usually) very flexible and therefore balanced.

However, let's, for the sake of argument, assume that there is a challenge that they'll find hard to overcome due to the lack of a different class. For example, you mention "using their stealth or fighting their fight in a gory melee".

My opinion is that you should simply remove those challenges. There is no point in providing a challenge and the solution (via NPCs or equipment/scrolls as mentioned in points 1,2). It feels contrived and forces the players to do things they probably don't want to do.

Instead, I think that options 3 and 4 are great: provide challenges that are solved by utilising the full extend of the players' abilities.

This does not necessarily mean that you need to sacrifice realism. If you really think that something can be done only by a rogue, let them have a rogue do it for them, either by persuading, blackmailing, paying, creating a scroll, doing a side quest... To be clear, I'm suggesting that the NPC goes and completes the mission without the party, thus avoiding the "escort the NPC" mission where the players just watch the NPC hog the limelight.

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Mind explaining what a Rogue can do that a Bard can't, or what a melee-only class can do that a properly shaped Druid can't, for that matter? – Shalvenay Mar 9 at 23:31
@Shalvenay It's not only a matter of ability but also of willingness. It might not be impossible to win the king's tournament in an epic undispellable antimagic arena that lasts 10 sessions but what the players will do is not exactly similar to what they imagined when they picked a wizard. – falsedot Mar 10 at 10:35
Why are you assuming they all picked Wizard? – Shalvenay Mar 10 at 12:42
Thank you for your answer! Removing these challenges altogether seems a bit overkill to me. What if I simply let my players know they have some certain ability and let them use it as they see fit? For example, a super-potent potion of invisibility should at least give them the idea, or a magical goblin-slaying sword would also be a thing not to be dismissed, in certain circumstances. – Alex Agapov Mar 14 at 8:32
@AlexAgapov pathfinder's starting box does something similar: the final boss is a dragon and there's a dragonbane sword in one room. this is a nice way to showcase that there are clever tricks besides blasting. Same with invisibility, it's nice to give a taste of it (and then suggest or let the player pick it as spell). – falsedot Mar 14 at 10:58

The main balance issue with a party of spellcasters is that they are very powerful for a limited number of rounds per day. This is a much more important issue than particular abilities which they have or lack. If the party is able to fight just one or two encounters per day, they will be significantly more powerful than a traditional 'balanced' party.

There are many ways you can handle this. You can allow them to do this, making combat much easier. (Perhaps this is useful if you want to make non-combat encounters the focus of the campaign.) You can allow it but increase the difficulty, in which case lethality is increased compared to the balanced party (more powerful encounters are more swingy, and save-or-X encounters are harder to overcome when you don't yet have the counter for X, be it stone to flesh, raise dead, etc.)). You can add external pressure to handle more encounters per day -- events happening as each day passes, quests which must be performed in X days, etc. There are probably other approaches like agreeing out-of-character to act some way.

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Good point, thanks. Stretching/shrinking the PCs' magical reserves should be a nice addition to my toolbox. For instance, the party might find a magic fountain upon having spent all their spells, which would allow them to "reload". – Alex Agapov Mar 14 at 8:35

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