Over the course of your adventures you’ll gain the services of numerous companions, including pregenerated characters with their own stories and player-created mercenaries. While you can have numerous characters with a diverse array of classes, feats and skills, there are really only several archetypes you need if you want a reasonable shot at success in Pathfinder: Kingmaker - The Tank, The Caster, The Healer and The Bard. Those are the four primary roles you need, but you’ll doubtlessly notice that only four builds are listed there, while you have six character slots. Don’t worry, we’re not neglecting anything; those are just the four that you really, really should have to make your life easier. The other two are optional, but we’ll fill them with two more sample builds - The Off-Tank and The DPS.
Given those goals, this is the party we ultimately ending up liking “the best”… although frankly if you don’t care too much about role-playing and diversity, rolling up six Sylvan Sorcerers isn’t a bad idea, either…
The Protagonist’s Role
Role-playing! It’s the name of the genre! Everybody likes guiding their shameless self-insert on a grand adventure, although sometimes unfortunate compromises must be made for the sake of gameplay mechanics and combat effectiveness. This is especially true in Pathfinder: Kingmaker, where the difficulty ramps up significantly by the middle of Chapter 2, and if you don’t make concessions to the game’s difficulty, you may find yourself having trouble. This entire section, of course, assumes that you’re willing to make sacrifices to various role-playing flights of fancy in order to make combat easier - if not, skip ahead to the walkthrough and keep that difficulty slider flexible!
As far back as Baldur’s Gate, we had one primary goal when it comes to designing a protagonist: they should be the battlefield general. Certain characters take more micromanagement, and if you’re going to go through all the bother of pouring your heart and soul into character creation, the character who demands the majority of your attention might as well be your own. This usually calls for a mage, but for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with gaming, we’re emotionally predisposed towards fighter/mages, and try to roll such a character whenever the rules allow us to get away with it. Pathfinder: Kingmaker can be a demanding game, but it does us a favor in one respect - the hybrid fighter/mage character is actually quite powerful, and is the sort of micromanagement-heavy character we’re looking for in a protagonist.
Simply put, the game seems to be more aggressive towards your protagonist than most other characters, and a party that wants to be regularly successful in combat needs a good tank. The best tanks, counterintuitively, aren’t always big lads with big shields and big armor, but rather characters whose overly-power gamey players manipulate various classes and feats to make them untouchable… well, as untouchable as any character can get. Of course, it’s hard to qualify as a tank at all without spell buffs, especially not a top-tier one, so a fighter/mage - a Magi - is exactly what we propose. It also doesn’t hurt that your protagonist will out-class other characters in the game, getting to spend 25 points during character creation on their attributes. As another stroke of fortune, the one skill every protagonist absolutely needs - Persuasion - fits in well with our proposed tank build, discussed in more detail later.
Pregenerated Characters vs. Mercenaries
Companions come in two varieties: unique, pregenerated characters who have storylines and personalities of their own, and mercenaries which you can hire from Anoriel Eight-Eyes for a fee. While the former are definitely more interesting and your journey will be more colorful with them around, it’s a sad fact that many encounters in Pathfinder: Kingmaker are over-tuned, demanding min-maxed characters of the strongest variety. To that end, mercenaries which you can create yourself will almost certainly be more powerful than the game’s pregenerated characters. The cost of these mercenaries is determined by your protagonist’s level, and if you’re thrifty (and perhaps strategically delay leveling up) you’ll be able to afford a full party of mercenaries well before the end of Chapter 1.
Mercenaries only get 20 points to distribute among their attributes, instead of 25 like the protagonist.
Animal Companions are ridiculously good in this game, dominating the early-game period and providing useful distraction throughout. Not all Animal Companions are created equal, and we personally prefer the Leopard, Smilodon and Wolf. The Smilodon gets the most attacks and deals the most damage, but the Leopard and Wolf both have trip attacks (automatically attempts to trip if their bite attack hits). Hard to go wrong, though, as Animal Companions have silly high stats, capping out at 46-49 Armor Class. They do kind of fall behind offensively over time, as they rarely have a means of bypassing Damage Reduction, but you can buff them just like your party, and if all else fails, they’re sturdy enough distractions that can hold the line. Plus, they increase your carrying capacity, making overworld travel much, much simpler. We’re going to try to fit Animal Companions into builds whenever feasible.