All posts by Mack Martin

Pathfinder Challenge: The Gunslinger

Salutations Everyone!

Today I want to start a new semi-recurring topic about ways to challenge players in a campaign you might be GM’ing. Some of these ideas certainly branch out into ideas players can use, but for the most part my goal is to focus on ways to challenge specific character types. First up, will be the Gunslinger, but in the future I’ll likely be using specific but popular archetypes (like Pit Summoners, or Stealth masters).

I want to note, however, that the goal is to challenge the character, not obliterate them. That’s what multiple castings of Phantasmal Killer are for, you don’t need a guide for that.

The Gunsgliner will start us off, however, as he is the genesis for this idea. A discussion came up today about whether or not it was ok to ban a class, and the Gunslinger was a good touchstone for both sides of the very nuanced debate. There were, in general, 3 reasons a GM bans any class; Tyranny, Power, World.

I think most people agree it’s ok to ban a class if it doesn’t fit your game world. I’ve seen campaigns with no healing, no wizards, and a variety of other things. That’s fine, it’s fun, and it isn’t a blanket judgment. Tyranny (a GM on a power trip) is the most problematic reason to ban anything, but we can’t fix that here.

What we can talk about is that middle reason. Some classes and builds approach the game differently (such as the Touch AC attacks of a Gunslinger), so they need to be challenged differently. If this isn’t done, then the character is more powerful within the system by comparison to other PCs. That’s certainly not fun, even for the Gunslinger player!

Oh, and we’ll be assuming that the GM isn’t allowing advanced firearms. They have their place, and I like them for certain campaigns, but the default for most GMs will be black powder. So we’re going to roll with that.

Understanding the Class

First, we have to understand the basics of how the build or class operates. For the Gunslinger, the primary things to understand are Touch AC, Dex to Damage, Feat choices, and Jamming.

The most important element is touch AC. Guns fired at targets within their first range increment (20 for pistols, 40 for muskets) hits against Touch AC. This is huge as the characters level, as the Gunslinger has a full BaB and a high dexterity. He’s probably going to hit very reliably.

Next, the character gains his dex to damage at level 5. This boosts damage up considerably, especially when you consider the Deadly Aim feat, which will boost damage even more.

Speaking of feats, here are the feats the GM is going to need to understand: Point-Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Deadly Aim, and Rapid Reload. Take some time to look those up so you know what your player is doing. If he has Multi-shot then tell him to change it. Many players don’t notice it only works with Bows (which is on purpose).

Next is misfire. Characters using paper cartridges (required to get the reload time down to a free action on many guns) will increase their chances to misfire.  When a character rolls a natural result of the misfire chance or lower their gun breaks.  The player likely has a way to fix that issue (usually requiring a Deed) but if he doesn’t choose to end his Full Attack action he runs the risk of his gun exploding in his hands.

It’s ok to pull this stuff on your player… that’s part of the fun of the Gunslinger experience. Just don’t make things malicious, keep them entertaining and story driven. So how do we challenge the Gunslinger in ways that promote teamwork without invalidating the player’s choices?

NOTE: A big problem I see sighted a lot is the double barrel guns. Luckily, those got a new errata. No more “full attack both barrels” any more. Instead it now takes a standard action to shoot both barrels. By the time a player can afford a double barreled weapon this isn’t much of an issue (2 shots on the move with a -4 isn’t a game breaker).

#1: Threaten The Man

It’s that easy. Firing and loading a gun both provoke attacks of opportunity. So if you have a solid melee combatant next to the Gunslinger he’s going to need a 5-foot step to get out of threat. This creates several opportunities.

An easy answer is to put the character up against multiple opponents. This has the added benefit of giving casters a chance to shine with a few well placed AoE’s. If those monsters are able to get the drop on the party, even better.

Summon Monster & Nature’s Ally both have options to summon 1d3 creatures from a lower list, and this works well against Gunslingers. If you get even 2 you can have them in flanking position very quickly. This will prevent the 5-foot step away from a threat. If you leave him nowhere to run he’ll have to stand and fight. It probably won’t kill him, but it will make life much more difficult.

There are some feats that play into this as well, allowing the GM to create monsters with variable power levels to this strategy. Step-Up is a great way to create a single melee combatant that can’t be backed away from, and it only requires a +1 BaB. Start giving this to your fighters (but not all the time). Additionally, Combat Reflexes allows for multiple Attacks of Opportunity. Every time the Gunslinger loads or shoots he provokes. These are separate provoke instances, so sometimes an NPC can get  4 or more AoO against a gunslinger.

#2: Remove or mitigate the Gun

This one should be simple, but I see GM’s forget about this option all the time. A gunslinger needs 2 hands to reload his gun. So he doesn’t have another weapon out most of the time… this means he doesn’t threaten with a big attack. He might have unarmed strike, or be wearing a cestus, but without Weapon Finesse and other melee feats those weapons aren’t going to be very potent.

This means you don’t need to fear his Attacks of Opportunity, even on weaker opponents. That frees up NPCs to simply disarm him. Sure they might take a punch, but if that gun goes to the ground he’s in trouble. How many movies have a fight scene around getting to the gun?

Alternatively, feats like Deflect Arrows work just fine on guns. This can help mitigate at least one attack per round, which is a nice reduction to the gun’s power.

Cover also mitigates guns quite a bit. A tower shield, for instance, can force a Gunslinger to spend rounds moving to get an angle. Flip a table over and hide behind it. Make him move!

It’s pretty easy to imagine a Rogue who can challenge a Gunslinger with just a few feats. By mixing up which feats they have (and not using all of these at once) you can add a variety of challenges to the game without invalidating the PC completely.

#3: MAGIC!

And of course spells. I saved this for last because there are a TON of spells that hurt a Gunslingers damage output. I’m going to choose my favorite option from each spell level in the Core Rulebook. This way the GM has fresh options as the pc’s level, and I’m sure he has the book needed to pull it off at the table.

For the most part, Gunslingers have decent saves because they have good Fort & Ref saves, and Wisdom is important for Grit. However, later on in life the low Will save isn’t bolstered as much by Wisdom, so it’s more likely to land, especially post level 9ish. Don’t be afraid to hit him with Hold Person or similar spells, it has a good chance of slowing him down for a few rounds (which is all we really need to do to challenge him).

There are a lot more options than these. Anything that creates a cloud or invisibility, for instance, will really hurt. These are just some examples, and higher or lower level spells of the same type can be used (especially to create variety).

  1. Obscuring Mist: At early levels it is impossible to hit what you can’t see, or at the very least extremely hard.
  2. Mirror Image: This is especially potent if the caster delays until right before the Gunslingers turn, making him “waste” shots clearing the Mirror Image so that other characters can bring it home by swinging for the fences. TEAMWORK!
  3. Displacement: 50% miss chance is great, and even at rounds per level, it is a lot of damage reduced.
  4. Wall of Ice: Just put a dome over the Gunslinger and it will take him a round or two to shoot his way out of a foot thick igloo (almost any wall can do this sort of thing).
  5. Dominate Person: Turn that gun on his companions, let them solve the problem for you.
  6. Flesh to Stone: A solid “save or suck” that is pretty easy to reverse if you have a prepared divine caster in the party. Try not to over-do this one if you’re party doesn’t have a way to reverse petrification.
  7. Banishment: By this time you’re probably going to other planes pretty frequently… which means their local denizens can dismissal or banish you.
  8. Telekenetic Sphere: It’s nearly impossible for a Gunslinger to get out of this spell without help. It has Hardness 30 and 20HP per caster level after all! Plus at this level you can move him around, using the sphere as mobile cover from the rest of the Gunslinger’s group.
  9. Time Stop: I know it goes without saying, but this is a brutal spell that, with even a little creativity, can shut almost any character down completely.

#4 Monsters

I’m near the end here, so I’ll just list 2d6 monsters from each book that really make life hard on a Gunslinger. Yes, I actually randomly rolled how many to list and got 12. Son of a…

I’m sure you can find other monsters like these at various levels, or you can beef one up if you like.

  • Zombies (Bestiary 1): At low levels especially, even 5 points of DR/Slashing works wonders since guns deal Bludgeoning/Slashing damage.
  • Purple Wurm (Bestiary 1): Gulp that gunslinger down! Cutting your way out requires a light slashing or piercing weapons. Guns are NOT light weapons (although a GM could be flexible here, allowing one shot per round).
  • Burning Skeletons (Bestiary 1): Get them into melee range with either the Gunslinger or his friends. Either way it makes life tricky!
  • Ochre Jelly (Bestiary 1): That gun will just keep them splitting!
  • Hydra (Bestiary 1): A gun can’t sever a Hydra’s head. Instead the Gunslinger needs to find a way to deal a little fire damage, or likewise get creative.
  • Invisible Stalker (Bestiary 1): Between Invisibility and Combat Reflexes, one of these can just sit on the Gunslinger all fight (especially if he doesn’t know what square it is in, just don’t cheat Mr. GM, that’s no fun).
  • Gelatinous Cube (Bestiary 1): It has a super low AC… so everyone is hitting it on almost every swing, not just the Gunslinger. Combined with it’s paralysis effect, this fight becomes a lot of fun.
  • Jellyfish Swarm (Bestiary 2): While any swarm is tricky on the Gunslinger (forcing him to bring out his Dragonbreath weapon), the Jellyfish Swarm has a poison that damages Dex… and it lasts for 6 rounds after they took damage!
  • Worm that Walks (Bestiary 2): DR 15/- Is a great start, and the fact that this is a template allows you to make this type of creature a reoccurring villain type.
  • Clockwork Soldier (Bestiary 3): These guys can disarm pretty regularly. As a CR 6, they can recur a few times, making them a great touchstone your players can gauge their power by (as they will see a hard enemy become a mook over the course of a few levels). Plus, lots of bad guys can use Clockwork Soldiers, so they fit into a lot of encounters thematically.
  • Cannon Golem (Bestiary 3): Bonus points for making the Cannon Golem look like a giant statue of the Gunsligner PC. Sometimes it’s fun to give them a taste of their own medicine, especially at higher levels.
  • Comozant Wizard (Bestiary 4): For a CR 4 these things really make life hard on a low level Gunslinger. It pulls double duty by forcing teamwork, especially since it’s big attack takes 2 rounds to pull off.
  • Broken Soul (Bestiary 4): It adds 6 Con and Toughness (along with other toys) to whatever you apply the template. So find something dangerous and make it tougher!

So there you have it. This won’t negate a Gunslinger, but it will surely open up the fights a bit, adding a few crucial rounds for the entire team to enjoy. If you’re having problems with the Gunslinger, or just want some nasty surprises for your players, I hope this helps!

Tradition Tinker: Brewster’s Monopoly

Salutations Everybody!

Today I want to continue my series on game design with components you have sitting around. Today I’ll be taking a new theme and applying it to a classic board game… Monopoly.

Most of you probably have a copy of Monopoly somewhere in the deep back of the game closet, usually unplayed for years. The reasons are pretty simple, it can suck sometimes. If players get too into trading the game slows way down (even though that’s what excites some players about the game). Worse, the game goes until everyone but one player is out… which can take up to 4-hours (longer is statistically rare even with 6+ players if you don’t use the optional Free Parking rule).

Before I go much further, I should mention that there are a variety of great monopoly versions out there that change the rules. Beyond simple re-skins, Monopoly Junior addressed many of these issues, and even added a credit card system in some releases.  This update by Hasbro serves to better teach young kids about money and spending (in the same way an allowance would). If you have kids, I recommend it.

But moving on, what do you do with that old box with Mr. Monopoly on the front? Well, here is Brewster’s Monopoly. Named after the 1985 classic staring Richard Pryor and John Candy, this game is all about being the first to run out of money. Here are the rules changes:

  • The first player to run out of money wins.
  • Players start with $2000.
  • If all of a property color is owned by a player (even another player) you may build houses and hotels on that property if you own at least one property of that color. The building player pays for the improvement (even if it is not on a space he owns).
  • Properties do not need to be improved at the same rate, one property may have a hotel, for instance, while other properties of the same color have no improvements.
  • Players may never sell houses or hotels, but they may mortgage un-improved properties as normal.
  • There is no optional free parking rule in effect.
  • If a player lands on an unowned property he cannot afford, he may not “pass” on purchasing it. Instead, if he cannot afford the property, it is free. The player claims the property and spends no money (he may not make a partial payment).

And that’s it. These little changes make for a very different game. The first rule simply ends the game when a player goes out, thus drastically shortening the play time (my tests have been about 45 minutes, but most of that was players grasping the idea).

The second rule simply adds a bit of oomph early on. We want properties being purchased and improved frequently. Building hotels is fun, and now doing so is an act of aggression!

The third and fourth rules are the tricky ones. This is what makes the game work, by allowing a new way to build improvements on an opponent’s space. You build hotels on an opponents space in hopes of landing on it yourself later. It’s a gamble, and properly managing those improvements is the subtle path to victory, as you need to watch board positions and time your improvements to maximize your chances of landing on them. However, you still have to own a property in that color (and all properties must be owned) so you open yourself up to buildings as well.

Rules five and six prevent the game from taking forever. Selling off hotels/houses just makes the game drag on. The other option would track who built each house and only allow players to remove those… it’s a nightmare best fixed by not allowing them to be sold at all. If I were creating this for print, I would consider testing a version that includes houses and hotels of various colors, so that we could track who built what. But for now, we simply don’t allow selling of improvements.

A lot of people play with the free parking rule. It’s fun for kids (it’s a bit like the lottery) but it is the primary culprit in games that take 6+ hours to play. If you’ve had a game go on for days, chances are that Free Parking was secretly to blame (although you might not notice). So we also got rid of that option.

Lastly, rule seven simply prevents game stalls. A strategy would be to buy nothing and waiting till the board costs more than $200 to circle… it’s a dull strategy we want to avoid. So if you land on it… you’re going to get it… so buy it if you can!

In the end, the game plays in about 45 minutes, although it can go up to an hour sometimes, depending on the player skill level and speed. I really enjoy this version, and when I break it out at holidays my friends and family don’t groan about Monopoly any more… it’s one of our go-to games.

Tradition Tinker: “Assault Chess”

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a series of articles on tinkering with classic games. Before I get started, I want to make an important blanket statement. This series is not about “fixing” classic games. They are classic for a reason and don’t need my help to be fun. Instead I want to use this series to show some modern tabletop game design techniques in a fun way.

The games I’ll be talking about are the kind that you might find in almost any game closet. Even people who aren’t gamers will likely have some familiarity with games like Chess, Clue, Monopoly, or War. So with any luck you’ll have a copy nearby, and you can give this variant a try some time.

So without further caveats, let’s talk chess…

Chess is possibly the most popular game in the world. It started in India or Persia (sources differ), but people from all nationalities are likely to know the rules today. For the most part, the rules were passed on through word of mouth and they have evolved into what we popularly know today over about 500 years.

Those rules, however, aren’t as fixed as most people think. Many cultures have their own variants, and many of them play in very different ways. The rules for Chess aren’t sacred, they weren’t laid out in a holy text. The basics are pretty fixed (players take turns moving pieces) but even the win conditions and pieces can change.

So what contemporary mechanic do I want to try adding to Chess? I want to change the rules to simulate two armies charging at each other. If it helps, imagine the king as the standard bearer for a group of soldiers, the goal is to break their line or take their standard, whichever comes first. To achieve this goal, I’ll be using some modern style mechanics that bring a game to a close faster, and provide an alternate road to victory.

Here are the addiitional rules for Assault Chess:

  1. When a piece reaches a space along the opposing player’s board edge the piece is removed from play. The piece’s controlling player gains 1 point. If any player has 8 points the game immediately wins with him as the victor.
  2. Pieces may not end their turn in a space closer to their starting board edge than the space they began their turn in. This rule does not apply if the piece captures an opposing piece with its move.
  3. If 8 or fewer pieces remain on the board, the player with the most points wins (with a draw if both players have the same points).

That’s it. Just those 3 rules. All the standard rules of chess still apply. If you checkmate the opposing players king you still win.

The first rule is simple, it’s there to bring the game to a close when you’ve managed to get half your force off the opposing players board edge. The second rule keeps everyone moving in that direction, but still allows backwards movement to grab an opponent’s pieces. The third rule ends possible stalemates, and makes late game capturing important for the player who is ahead on points. Many games might be won with only 2 or 3 points.

When played, the game focuses on moving forward while stopping your opponent from reaching your board edge. Another possible name for the variant is Football Chess, as each game can feel a bit like American Football, with the King representing the quarterback who needs to be protected. Obviously there are two balls in play in this metaphor, but I feel like the gameplay is fairly representative otherwise (with the scoring pieces representing receivers down field).

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of tweaking, and hopefully it inspires you to break out that old chess set and play a few games. Next week I’ll be tackling Monopoly!

The Pipe-Works: Part 1

One of the often overlooked aspects of playing miniatures games is the terrain. There are a variety of great options for the table surface itself (Mats by Mars and FAT mats to name a couple). Heck, even just a dark grey primed board can pass in many situations. It’s easy to get the ground laid… but what about the terrain itself? Games like Malifaux, Warmachine and Warhammer 40k require 3D terrain to really shine.

Games-Workshop and other companies make some amazing terrain kits. All of that, however, can get expensive. New players on a budget likely need to focus their spending money on new models, paints, brushes, a carrying case… or any number of more direct “get into the game” purchases. So today I thought I would begin a two part series on how to make some inexpensive terrain that fits into a variety of themes (although it won’t work for every game). The Pipe-Works industrial park.

You’ve likely seen locations like this while driving along the highway. Enormous silo’s of… well usually grain in the real world, but here we’re going to assume nefarious chemicals.  We’re going to also damage them up, making them appear abandoned, or at least showing the signs of constant conflict.

Here I’ve collected the things I’ll need to for this project and laid them out in a vague shape that shows how I’ll be arranging them.

20150926_183311All in all I used the following:

  • Cardboard Pringles, Kool Aid, and Tea canisters
  • Twist-off Bottle Caps
  • Corrugated Plasticard
  • Press-board
  • Gorilla Glue
  • Elmer’s White Glue
  • Super Glue
  • Hobby Knife
  • Hobby Scissors
  • Sand

Step 1: The Gathering

I feel compelled to mention that I did not collect all these canisters and bottle caps by consuming their contents. I asked friends to save any they might have, and I saved them myself over a few months. You’re going to want to find someplace to tuck them away, as the other people you live with will probably think they are trash.

As for the bottle caps, I simply asked Joel to start saving them. He’ll deny it, but it only took him one weekend to get me all those caps. I think he’s preparing for a Fallout style event.

As for the pressboard, that’s a bit trickier. I happen to have a friend with a table saw (thanks Mark) and he was gracious enough to cut up the wood for me. If you don’t have access, however, there is hope. I suspect most places can cut wood for you, but I can only be sure that Home Depot provides the service (as that is where I went). If you’re going to purchase a piece of pressboard (they come in 3′ x 2′ sheets at about $8) then you can ask that they cut it for you. Just have them get close to 1 foot squares and you’ll be fine. They don’t have to be exact, and you’re going to lose some of the dimension on the cuts. You want the boards to be thin but sturdy. Describe your needs to someone in a work apron and they’ll help you find it.

Step 2: Gluing Crap to Wood

This is the easy part. Gorilla brand wood glue is astonishingly inexpensive (about $3 a bottle) and you’re going to get plenty of it. I recommend wood glue for this first stage. It doesn’t dry clear, but that’s ok, most of everything is going to get hidden anyway. Its bond is stronger than white glue (important for the big pieces) and it’s much cheaper than super glue. You’re going to use enough of it that super glue just isn’t cost effective.

Simply apply the wood glue to the open end of the cardboard canisters (I don’t remove the wrapper) and then stick them to the wooden panels. These will be our silos. Always put them closed side up, otherwise the illusion will be quickly broken. I also recommend putting them at the side of the board. This will allow multiple corner arrangements, and you can put a few together to create large line of sight blocking areas this way. If you put them in the center of the panel it will limit the ways you can arrange them.

20150926_192638

Repeat the process with the lids to make rendering vats on the ground. Cut the center of the lids in a single line with a hobby knife. The hole doesn’t need to be large, but it helps them stay adhered to the board.

Next, I used wood glue in lines to set up the bottle caps face down. You want them to be face down to avoid accidental cuts, but also to hide what they actually are in the final product. I used them to make walkways (I’ll be painting them in part 2).

Lastly, I cut corrugated plasticard (about $10 at most model train stores) to make sheet metal walk ways and platforms. I glued these down using standard Super Glue, as the plastic responds better this way. You don’t want to cover up the entire top of the silos, as in part 2 we’ll be using wet effects to make some of them look full of chemicals. It’s also ok to leave some of them open.

It can be fun to play reverse CSI at this stage. I try to hint at a story by placing pieces to look broken. For instance,  I glued some of the plasticard walk-ways to look like they fell into the chemical vats.  Once the wet effects are done they should add world building depth to the piece. This picture is from the post Step 3, but you can see what I’m talking about here.

Step 3: Basing!

I had a few extra pieces of plasticard laying around, so I went ahead and glued them to the board directly, to make scrap metal on the ground. Waste-not, want-not… and all that.

Lastly comes the sand. For this I took a little extra plasticard and folded it in half to make a glue spreader. The fold is important, as it lets you stand the card up when not in use, the glue facing up (see the picture).

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I then applied Elmer’s white glue to every surfaces where board still showed through. Spread that around with the glue spreader so that you don’t have to use too much glue, but it is important to get full coverage of every nook and cranny.

Then pour on the sand! I use a clean pizza box (I’ve had the same one for years). Most pizza places will give you an extra box if you ask when ordering pizza. The box lets me reclaim the unused sand at the end, and keeps it from getting everywhere.

20150926_192611

Step 4: Wait & Shake

Now give the whole thing 24 (or 48) hours to dry. Don’t rush it. Afterwards you can gently shake off the sand that didn’t adhere. I do this into my pizza box so that I can poor the excess sand back into the container.

You might have some places near the edges of the base where glue didn’t hold on. It’s ok to have small bare patches away from the edge, but those bits near the corners or sides can break the visual illusion. Once you shake off the sand, if you have bits like I do at the lower left corner here, just use some Super Glue and put on some more sand.20150926_201927

And that’s it! You’ve got a piece of terrain (or multiple pieces) that are ready to be primed and painted! We’ll be covering that in part 2!

 

Pathfinder Occultist Guide: Part Four

Archetypes & Builds

Every class in Occult Adventures gets a few archetypes, giving up some abilities to gain others. It can drastically change the class, but if you’re going for a specific build (which I outline a few of below)  the Archetype’s can be right up your alley.

Battle Host

The first archetype helps to create a melee focused Occultist. It gains a couple of knowledge skills, and doesn’t give anything up directly for the boost. They aren’t impressive (local and nobility) but they don’t hurt. Most notably, however, is the gain of Heavy Armor and Tower shield proficiency. These couple very well to create a martial minded character, especially defensively.

You’re going to only have 2 implements until level 10 (when you get your third). Those are likely going to be Abjuration and Transmutation, which work to make you a competent frontliner, especially once you have a magic weapon and start giving it Bane. Alternatively, you could choose just Abjuration (for defense) or Transmutation (for offense) and then take a more casterly implement school. This can give you a battle-caster style that can be hard for other classes to get right.

Given the bonus feats, this is also the best option if you want to go after an archery pursuit. Couple this with Gravity Bow as a spell and you’ll be able to throw a lot of damage down range.

Panoply Bond: This is the big mechanic of the archetype, exchanging all of the implements for one. You still have to dedicate focus to each school, but you manage only one implement, that you’ll never really lose. The big benefit, is that you can make this an expensive item, like Full Plate, so you get to start your career with a Masterwork suit of armor (if that’s the route you go). You give up quite a few implements, however, which is going to limit your casting  and focus power choices severely.

Battle Skill & Battle Reading: These are just straight nerfs to your standard abilities, restricting what they work on. This is really a tax to pay for your other abilities.

Bonus Feasts: You get one at 4 and ever 4 levels after. You’re going to be in the thick of things, so more feats is a welcome addition. You give up most of your circle based abilities to get these, which isn’t a big loss if you’re the kind of character who wants to focus on a martial pursuit.

Spirit Warrior: Not a bad ability, as the spell itself is pretty potent. As a non-divine class, however, it’s hard to say what weapon form it chooses. Try to follow a martial god so that you’ve got either a wide crit range, or a high crit multiplier. If you can get it, Falcata is a great option. Aura sight is a fair trade for this offensive ability.

Heroic Splendor: Effective at granting you some needed defense or offense, it’s always nice to gain a resource that is this flexible. Again, a fair trade for outside contact, or a trade up if you’re wanting to focus on melee/archery.

Necroccultist

It does what it says on the tin, focusing on necromancy and undead minions. The standard Occultist does this pretty well already, so this archetype really needs to offer more for its trade offs.

Necromantic Bond: For being restricted (you effectively gain the bonuses of having two Necromancy implements). There aren’t enough necromancy spells not on your list already to really worry too much about this.  You’ll be able to pick up a few debuffs (like ray of enfeeblement) early on, but as you start get get spells at later levels the Occultist list has higher level spells on at a lower level, so this starts to sag a bit.

Deadspeaker: You swap out Object Reading for an equally useful investigation ability. This change is mostly thematic, as the results are dependent heavily on the GM.

Ghostly Horde: Here we go, summoning a horde of ghosts certainly has a nice feel to it, and the damage is hard to resist. It’s a good trade off for aura sight, all things considered.

Life Drain: I’ve never been a big fan of negative levels as an ability in the hands of a PC, but if you’re a GM this is a really interesting ability to use on the heroes. It’s a few hours of negative levels, which can make for an engaging scenario. As a PC, however, I find that handing out negative levels is a bit situational, best used on big-bad’s who are casters. It’s green because you only give up Outside Contact to get it, which I feel is a trade up.

Sha’Ir

I’m still on the fence about this archetype. I can see some great potential, but I can’t play all the archetypes long enough to really get a feel for how survivable the Jin are. If you’re going the Dresden route (noted below) then this is probably the build you’ll gravitate towards. It’s limited by the 6-level casting of the Occultist, however.

Jin: You lose roughly half your implements, but gain spells to make up for the loss. The net effect is that you limit your pool of Focus Power options, but you gain a wider selection of spells. Most notably, these spells are some of the most iconic and flashy options.  Many already exist on the Occulist list, but they are mostly spells you’ll want to have around if you’re going to focus on casting. Replacing a dead Jin is free (except for time) so if you lose one you’re simply hindered temporarily. It’s a fair trade, and the later abilities really make it shine.

Augment Jin: A big boost to the elementals hit points and saves keeps it from dying too often. Although as you level you’re going to need to use this ability to keep it effective in combat. It probably won’t ever be impressive… but an obedient elemental has some incredible uses. Like sending it down a hallway to trigger traps. This ability grows with you, and it really plays well into a blaster or controllers goals.

It should be noted that this does have an effect at low levels. While Jin are normally small elementals, but they lose their elemental ability (air mastery, burn, ect). This gives them that ability back. These abilities have some useful applications, if not always combat effective.

Manifest Jin: There isn’t a lot to this, effectively buffing one of the Jin to full small elemental status at all times. It’s not a big buff and you’re still going to need to Augment the Jin to make it useful in combat.

Jin Spy: I’m not exactly sure what this does for the character. I suppose it implies that before this ability the character doesn’t have control over her Jin. I can’t imagine that’s the case, however, as it would make the class very strange. Few GM’s would want to spend time controlling the Jin. GM’s will likely require this ability to send the Jin away from the Occultist for any real amount of time, I expect.

Tome Eater

A truly strange archetype (and the kind I want to see more of), the Tome Eater is a drastic thematic shift for the character. I suspect that a Goblin Tome Eater will appear as a new trope for the Goblins in many Occult focused games.

Bonded Tome: Like the Battle Host the Tome Eater gets only one implement that serves as a focus for his implement schools. It doesn’t change much, but it does add the ability t o buff DC’s a few times per day, which certainly doesn’t hurt.

Devour Books and Scrolls: This ability gets expensive fast, so I don’t suspect it will see much use by PCs. A GM, however, will love stealing scrolls and books and then eating them in front of the heroes. At 6th level, however, this ability starts to shine. The character can swallow incoming spells, effectively having Dispel Magic on demand. It gets even better at 16 when you don’t have to ready an action.

Word Sense: An investigation ability swapped out for aura sight. It comes in at orange, because Aura Sight is likely more useful.

Builds

There are three builds that the Occultist gravitates to by default. While other options are certainly available, I consider these to be the roles that the Occultist can perform intuitively by most players.

The Martial

Either as a frontline specialist or as an archer, the Martial focuses less on his spells and more on his focus powers. He’s a bit more feat heavy than other Occultists, if he chooses the archery route especially, but his focus powers lend potent buffs to his defense and offense. Unlike most Occultists, the Martial benefits from a little multi-classing, most notably Fighter.

Attributes: Int, Str, Dex, Con, Wis, Cha. You’re going to need plenty of mental focus and decent physical stats to stay in the thick of things. If you’re going archery then switch Dex and Str in the order of importance.

Implements: Abjuration & Transmutation. The physical stat boost from transmutation is very effective, allowing you to focus on Int first. The base focus power is also quite powerful, especially once you’ve got a magic weapon and can instead add bonuses like Flaming, Keen, and Bane. Abjuration does just as much for your defenses as Transmutation does for your offense, and should see its way into your implements at level 1 or 2, even if you’re going with archery.

Notes: Without a +1 BaB at first level a lot of good feats are off limits to you. You can start with a level of fighter, to get the bonus feat and the +1 BaB. However, another solid option is to just take Toughness or Heavy Armor Proficiency at level 1. It delays Power Attack, or other offensive feats, but you won’t deeply regret the selection.

The Dresden

Named after Chicago’s premier wizard-detective, the Dresden is an excellent investigator/blaster. He won’t be nuking as heavily as a Sorcerer, but he’ll come pretty close for quite some time.

Attribute: Int, Dex, Con, Wis, Str, Cha. You’re most important stat is Int, and it’s critical enough that sinking an 18 into it is always a good choice. I would even consider dumping a stat to 8 in a game with a 15 point buy, just to get an 18 Int.

Implements: Evocation, Divination, Necromancy. You’re likely going to want the nuke focus powers early on, especially Elemental Blast at level 5. This build will put more focus power into Evocation than anywhere else, allowing it to blast more.

Notes; The class holds up with more dedicated blasters better than you might think. On paper it falls behind, but in practice it gets the job done efficiently. It has added utility that many other blasters won’t have, and with the right Implement choices it can also boast a pretty reliable companion or some mighty investigation abilities.

The Mastermind

When in doubt, bring some friends from the underworld/afterlife/elemental planes with you!

Attributes: Int, Con, Cha, Dex, Wis, Str. Like the Dresden, Int is king. followed by more HP and a descent Cha. If you give up your bargaining abilities or don’t plan on taking binding spells then Charisma drops down in the order to below Dex.

Implements: Necromancy, Conjuration, Illusion. All of these implement schools have pets that hang around for long enough to be effective. Necromancy at 10 minutes per level, Conjuration for a full minute, and Illusion for 1 round per level. As you learn the powers of your summoned creatures you’ll gain access to an array of options as well. You can easily have 3 or 4 pretty powerful servants at your disposal. This doesn’t couple as well with the Sha’Ir archetype as you might think, as you’ll be starved for standard actions too frequently.

Notes: I don’t recommend this option for new players, as it requires you to manage multiple actors on the field. The game slows down enough with a new player at the helm of a class with an animal companion, and the mastermind can take that to the extremes. If you can play fast, or you’re in a game with few people, then the Mastermind can shine.

Pathfinder Occultist Guide: Part Three

Now we come to the Feats, Traits,  and Equipment. Where the class abilities gave you specific options in the Occult Adventures book to choose from, these options span many sources. I’ll be focusing on those provided in the books that can be referenced on Paizo’s PRD, with the addition of Occult Adventures, which isn’t on the PRD as of the writing of this guide, but I expect it to be there in a reasonable amount of time.

Feats

Feats are possibly the most complicated choice players have to make, and new players in particular have trouble deciding what options are good for their character. Thankfully the Occultist isn’t a feat heavy class, so you don’t have to worry too much about being feat starved.

I’m going to begin by listing a few feats that are never “bad” choices that appear in the core rulebook, as this will help set a baseline. I’ll then proceed through each book and note the blue and green options, with a few orange thrown in (and maybe a red option or two if I think they might be traps).

Core Rulebook Feats

Skill Feats: This includes feats like Acrobatic or Magical Aptitude that grant a +2 to two different skills. I mention them here as a group, since you probably won’t need to take any of them. You’ve got plenty of skill ranks, so you don’t have to worry about these little boosts. Additionally, Skill Focus (which grants a +3 to one skill) is likewise not very good. Some builds enjoy it, but it’s a bit redundant for the Occultist.

Armor Proficiency (Heavy): Melee focused Occultists are going to want as high an AC as they can get. You could dip into fighter (or similar) to gain the heavy armor training, but dipping with an Occultist can dent your progression substantially (you’re already getting spells later than you’d like). Instead, picking up Heavy Armor Training as a feat isn’t a bad choice, as you aren’t a feat dependent class. You can hold off until level 3 or 5 to pick this up, however, as medium armor will hold up for a few levels, and you won’t have the money for full plate at first level anyway.

Combat Casting: If you’re planning to be in the thick of things then you should consider picking up Combat Casting early. It’s a good first level choice if you want to be able to cast while in melee with an enemy.

Combat Expertise & Improved Maneuvers: Since you’re going to have a high intelligence, you might consider learning a few tricks to use in combat. Disarm, Trip, and Dirty Trick are all decent options that can provide opportunities for your party heavy hitters (if you aren’t one). If you’re a dex build you should also look at the Agile Maneuvers feat. These are rated as orange simply because an Occultist likely has better things to do on his turn, but if you have the feats to burn you might like having an additional combat option.

Point-Blank Shot & Ranged Feats: These include Deadly Aim, Point-Blank Shot, and all the other feats that tie into it (like Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, ect). If you’re going with an archery build, then you’re likely to be putting every feat you get into these. It’s a heavy chain to push into, but with Transmutation’s Gravity Bow spell and Legacy Weapon focus power and you can put out a lot of damage. If this is your plan, you might want to consider being a Human for the extra feat, since this is a feat heavy road to travel.

Dodge & mobility feats: The Dodge chain isn’t a bad one, especially for martial characters with a full BaB, but it doesn’t really hold up for the Occultist, who doesn’t need to charge in right away to be effective, or move about the battlefield much.

Eschew Materials: It depends on your GM, but if yours is a stickler about material components then this is an amazing feat to pick up. Normally you won’t need it (as drawing the components is part of casting) but you’d be surprised how often a lack of a component bag can come up.

Great Fortitude, Iron Will, & Lightning Reflexes: Bonus saves can help to shore up your failings, or to boost a good save into even more reliable territory. However, it’s probably better to get a +1 from a trait than to spend a feat on a +2. The improved versions, however, are almost never worth it.

Improved Counterspell: You’re not going to have the spell levels to make this worth it most of the time.

Improved Initiative: Going first is especially important if you’re filling a crowd control or battlefield control role. If you’re not trying to lock down multiple opponents with debuffs and area spells then this drops to orange.

Power Attack, Cleave, & beyond: If you’re intending to hit things with a big weapon (which is an option) then you’re going to want to pick up Power Attack at level 3 (you can’t until then because of your BaB). Because you’re frequently going to be making only a single attack, Furious Focus (from Advanced Players Guide) is a nice bump. All in all, there aren’t a lot of feats you “need” to make use of a 2-handed melee weapon, so this is a nice secondary role you can fill without too many feats spent.

Spell Focus: You’re going to have problems with saves as you level, and this will certainly help. Don’t hesitate to get all the way to Greater Spell Focus as early as level 5 if you’re specializing in direct damage or debuffing, as you’re going to want the better saves.

Spell Penetration: After about level 7 you’re going to start seeing more and more creatures with Spell Resistance. Luckily it’s a caster level check, so you’re not penalized for being a 6-level caster, but you’re still going to appreciate the added chance to break through resistance. You can wait till level 7 or 9 to pick this up, however.

Toughness: I can’t say this enough, more hit points is good. Even if you don’t think you need them, if you’re at a loss for what to take as a feat, Toughness can keep you alive.

Two-Weapon Fighting Feats: Since Occult Magic doesn’t have somatic components it is possible to work with a two-weapon combatant. However, as a 3/4th BaB character the negative to hit is a bit more noticeable for you. In general this feat heavy chain isn’t as efficient as taking Power Attack and just using a two-hander.

Weapon Finesse: You don’t have a lot of touch attacks, but the few you do can benefit from Weapon Finesse if you have a high dex instead of a high strength.

Weapon Focus: A +1 to hit can help shore up your lower BaB, but the rest of the chain probably isn’t worth diving into for an Occultist.

Item Creation Feats: You just don’t have enough spells to create a wide range of options without lots of Spellcraft checks. However, if your GM allows these feats, it can help push up your wealth by level. You can also use it to enchant your implements at a discount so that they pull double duty. Craft Wondrous Items is your best bet here, and your fellow party members will appreciate it as well.

Metamagic Feats: Here’s a tricky one, as the spells you do get don’t benefit too much from metamagic feats. You gain spell levels so slowly that increasing the spell slot requirement for an effect is rarely worth the jump. You just don’t have the breadth of spells that a full caster has. However, Extend and Heighten can be worth it, especially if you’re buffing (extend) or debuffing (Heighten), so those two are green. Additionally, there are some tricks you can pull with the Magical Lineage trait (which reduces the level of the spell by 1 as long as you toss on a metamagic feat) if you really want to maximize the effectiveness of a single spell. This will hurt your save DC so you’re going to need to choose your spell wisely.

Occult Adventures Feats

I’m bumping Occult Adventures up on the list (rather than the normal chronological release order) because it includes feats specifically for the Occultist.

Psychic Duel Feats: If you’re doing a lot of Psychic Duels, there are a variety of options to help boost up your duel abilities. In non-occult campaigns, however, these aren’t as important, since most creatures won’t put up too much of a fight. If you want to lock people down with psychic duels, however, you can start picking these up after you get level 2 spells.

Efficient Focus Shift: If you’re having problems properly planning where to put your Focus each day then this feat will help you fix your mistakes. However, by 7th level you should have a good handle on things.

Extend Resonant Power: If you’ve got a Conjuration implement this can make it useful to someone at least. Otherwise, this can help provide a buff to a party member, especially if you have other spellcasters in the group.

Extra Focus Power: Focus powers are great, usually far more potent than a single feat, so getting more of them is always a plus. More importantly, you gain feats at the same level as focus powers, so when you hit key levels (like 5th) you can pickup two good powers instead of waiting.

Extra Mental Focus: 2 Focus points may not sound like a lot, but the more you have the happier you’ll be, especially early on. This makes a great 1st level feat.

Implement Focus: If you’re running around with a lot of focus in your generic pool (which I don’t recommend) then this will certainly help. Planning for your day, however, is a big part of the class (like a wizard) so it’s probably better to just get used to thinking ahead instead of using your generic pool too much.

Rapid Focus Shift: If you’re needing to shift focus from instruments this quickly, and this often, then you’re probably better off tanking Extra Mental Focus so you simply have more to go around.

Strong Implement Link: The trick with this feat is to share your implement. You can charge it up in the morning and hand it off, allowing your party sorcerer, for instance, to benefit from your Evocation Implement. As long as you’re within 30 feet of him you can cast with impunity. It’s a surprisingly convenient (and potent) buff for a fellow party member if you’re willing to let someone else hog the glory. That or you have someone in the group who can actually conjure. You do give up access to your associated Focus Powers, however, so that pushes this down into the orange.

Advanced Player’s Guide Feats

From here on out I’m just going to touch on the green and blue feats, to keep things from getting out of hand.

Crossbow Mastery: If you’re going the ranged attack route with a crossbow don’t miss this feat.

Elemental Focus: If you’re throwing around a lot of fire and lightning then this stacks with Spell Focus (evocation) and can help get your save DC’s as high as possible.

Expanded Arcana: This might get an errata, but for now it would let you add spells to your spell list from the Implements you have. This is particularly good for the Implements with a variety of spells, or with good spells all crammed into a few levels (like Evocation or Transmutation).

Furious Focus: I mentioned this above in the Power Attack description. This is surprisingly good for 2-handed martial Occultists, as it lets you boost your accuracy substantially for your first attack each round. It’s worth picking up around 5th-level if you’re in melee a lot (although it can wait till 7 or 9 if you have more pressing feats to take).

Ultimate Combat Feats

There isn’t a lot for an Occultist in Ultimate Combat, as Style feats comprise the bulk of options. But there’s a few good options not to be overlooked.

Clustered Shots: This can really help you overcome damage resistance, if you’re using ranged weapons this can make a big difference.

Destructive Dispel: If you’re going to be using Dispel Magic to dispel frequently then this feat is pretty effective. It’s only worth taking if you fight a lot of spellcasters though, and if you’re willing to hold your action to dispel. If this is the case, however, this quickly jumps up to blue.

Dimensional Agility Chain: If you’re going to use dimension door frequently, this can provide some interesting tricks. While most classes have to multi-class to make use of these feats in melee, the Occultist doesn’t. The effects of the feats, however, aren’t powerful enough to rate them highly, but they are fun. You don’t get Dimension Door very early, however, so this will be a late game option for you.

Dispel Synergy: Another boost if you dispel frequently.

Ultimate Magic Feats

Many of these feats are designed for specific classes, but there are a few worth looking at for the Occultist.

Antagonize: An Abjuration focused Occultist can make an amazing tank, if only he had a mechanic for attracting the attention of a single enemy… and this feat gives him that.

Detect Expertise: If you enjoy using divination magic to get a leg up on enemies, then this can help a lot. It is particularly useful in investigation focused campaigns, as the abilities of a target are huge clues in a “who done it.”

Eldritch Heritage Chain: Gaining the benefits of a sorcerer bloodline can vary from terrible to amazing. One notably great options to look at is Arcana (for Arcane Bond),

Extra Cantrips or Orisons: This technically doesn’t work for the Occultist, because he has Knacks, not Catnrips/Orisons. However I can’t imagine a non-PFS GM having an issue with the feat. If you’ve got Knacks you want to pick up (like multiple divination 0-level spells) talk to your GM about being allowed to take this feat. Technically, expanded arcana can also let you select two 0-level spells.

Spell Specialization: If you’re tossing around a lot of Evocation spells with damage die per level (like fireball) then Spell Specialization can boost that damage considerably. The feat itself allows you to choose a new spell at regular intervals, so once you’ve maxed out the levels on a spell you can apply the feat to something new.

Undead Master: If you’re working towards an undead horde you probably don’t actually need this. However, if you’re trying to build one big bloody skeleton (or the similar) then this feat can really help turn that dragon you just killed into your new pet.

Advanced Class Guide Feats

Most of these feats focus on the new classes in the book, but again, there are some great options.

Amateur Investigator: As an Int  class this is an amazing ability in an investigation heavy campaign.

Barroom Brawler: If you’ve got a variety of combat feats you wish you had, then this will give you some added flexibility. Only take this if you really know your combat feat options well, however, as it can slow the game down if you’re searching through books.

Believer’s Boon: If you follow a god with good domains (trickery is amazing, as is travel) then this is blue, otherwise it’s likely green, as most god’s have at least one decent domain ability.

Slashing Grace: If you’re going with a dex build, this is close to a requirement, as it represents a big jump in damage. It’s a bit feat intensive, however, and dex is not the Occultists most efficient route to melee fighting.

Traits

It’s easier to break traits up into groups, as many perform similar functions. There are a few traits that benefit from some special attention, and we’ll discuss those individually. There is an amazing guide to traits here, and there isn’t much need for me to go over them all now. I’ll touch on the big blue options only.

Skill Traits: Gaining a new skill in class can help round out a character. Occultists have enough skill points to go around so picking up a skill you don’t have like Knowledge (Dungeoneering), Bluff, or Intimidate gives you a big boost to flexibility.

+1 Save Traits: A bonus to saves never hurts, especially since you can shore up your reflex save.

Reactionary: If you’re a debuffer or controller build, going first is extremely helpful.

Focused Mind: A bonus to concentration checks will help if you’re going to be on the front lines.

Magical Lineage: You’ll have to find a spell that benefits greatly from metamagic, and then take metamagic feats to make this worth while. If you do, however, you can pull of some neat tricks. One example is to take Shocking Grasp and the Reach metamagic feat, giving you a decent ranged touch attack in your first level spell slot.

Magic Items

There are a lot of magic items and the Occultist interacts with them a bit differently than most, because not all item bonuses stack with the abilities of an Occultist. Cloak of Resistance, for instance, won’t stack with the benefits of the Abjuration Implement. It is vitally important that you check the type of bonus granted by items, to be sure their effects stack.

A +1 Weapon, is a priority for melee characters. Not just for the bonus it provides on its own, but because it unlocks Legacy Weapon’s ability to grant other effects, like Keen and Bane, at low levels. Between Lead Blades and Bane you can have a Greatsword that deals 5d6+2+1.5 Str + Power Attack damage.

Likewise, +1 Armor and Shields open up Aegis in the Abjuration Implement. Give the special armor and shield abilities a read, there is something for almost any situation available to you. Defiant functions much like Bane, so you can add +2 AC and DR 2/- to your armor/shield.

Metamagic Rods are also a huge boon. Rather than spending feats on metamagic, an Extend or Heighten rod provides 3 uses per day of a very convenient feat.

From Occult Adventures there is also the Ring of Psychic Mastery. By the time you can afford it, it hands out 4 additional spells per day(a single spell slot of levels 1 to 4). This is especially good for characters who had to cast a spell multiple times (like healers or nukers).

Lastly is the Refocusing Rod. At 5000gp this rod is cheap enough to rate much better than taking the Efficient Focus Shift feat. It even provides other functionality that the feat doesn’t.

Next up, Archetypes & Builds!

Pathfinder Occultist Guide: Part Two

Implements & Schools

Every Occultist is limited by the implements he has chosen. At most you’ll only ever have 7 Implements, and for the majority of your career you’ll only have 4 or 5. This means that every Occultist has a very difficult decision to make. What makes the issue more convoluted, is that every Implement school has its own drawbacks and bonuses.

Implements correspond to schools of magic. Every implement grants a base power, a passive “Resonant” ability that powers up when you invest focus in the implement, and it also provides a list of possible Focus Powers that a character can choose from when they are granted Focus powers at odd levels. The Occultist gains 1 spell per spell level from the associated school off of his list (which is fairly limited but has some good spells).  You’ll quickly get a 3rd Implement at level 2, but then you have to wait till level 6 for a 4th. So the early choices are important.

Because of all this, every Implement school functions very differently. They each provide abilities along one or two themes, and the focus powers often mimic an enhanced version of the spell options provided. Spell choices often fall to utility abilities, because the focus powers do the job must better. You’ve only got so many focus powers to choose from, however,so spells can broaden options in effects you don’t want to use focus powers on.

Some implements have amazing focus powers, some have great spells, and some have solid base abilities. Don’t be afraid to take an implement because you like one or two focus powers. Sure the spells you gain might not be your cup of tea, but they won’t hurt you. You’ve only got so many actions in combat, so the opportunity cost for a few dud spells isn’t a big deal when you’re using focus powers or just wading into melee.

I’m not going to color-code the implement schools themselves, as your mileage is going to vary depending on too many factors. However, I will be color coding all the abilities within the school, so help inform your decision making when choosing the options you might be interested in.

Lastly, Occultists have the option to take an implement more than once to gain additional spells from the school. I don’t recommend this. Once you have the implement the spells from the school are considered on your spell list, so you can just pickup scrolls and wands to fill in those spots. Even when it isn’t on your list, you’ve got an amazing UMD, so just invest in a few scrolls and wands for those abilities you’ll want frequently that you might not have (like detect magic).

Abjuration School

The abjuration implements can turn an Occultist into a defensive wall, shrugging off attacks both physical and magical. It improves your saves, gives you reactive defense options, and lets you dispel magical effects that do manage to get through. If you’re intending to be on the front lines of combat the abjuration school should be a priority for you.

Warding Talisman (Resonant Power): This effectively turns your implement into a cloak of resistance. It doesn’t stack with the cloak, but honestly that’s fine. Really this frees you up to take one of the many other awesome cloaks that is usually usurped by a cloak of resistance.

Mind Barrier (Base Focus Power): While it requires you to be ready to take a hit, it is only a swift action. If you’re looking at being on the front line of fights this power jumps up to blue. Combined with Heavy Armor Proficiency this can make for a very effective meat shield.

Aegis (Any Level): For 1 focus you can increase the enhancement bonus of your shield or armor, and it stacks if you’ve already got a magic bonus. Even better, you can use this power to add any special ability to the armor or shield. This grants an incredible amount of defensive flexibility to the character for a full minute, allowing the Occultist to adapt to enemy threats while on the front line.

Energy Shield (3rd Level): Another incredible defensive ability. Turning it on is a swift action and it lasts for a full minute, so with a little preparation you can withstand elemental damage (like a dragon’s fire) without missing a beat. It works like Protection from Energy with 5 points per level. As a swift action for 1 focus this is great. However, it gets even better! For 2 focus you can gain this benefit as an immediate action! So when the dragon breaths fire… BAM buncha points of fire buffer!

Globe of Negation (11th Level): A solid defensive ability that can protect both the Occultist and his companions. It’s immobile, costs a lot of focus, and it pops fairly quickly (usually only stopping one or two spells). However, it does provide a fair amount of battlefield control and protection against enemy casters.

Loci Sentry (Any Level): An effective early warning system that just won’t get used very often. Dazing the target for a round is a step up from the Alarm spell, but if you set the area far enough away from you (as an early warning system) then the daze won’t matter.

Planar Ward (Any Level): Another 1 minute defensive buff, this one will range from orange to blue depending on how frequently your campaign encounters outsiders. In a demon hunting campaign this is pretty amazing. If you’re hunting giants, however, it won’t come into play much.

Unraveling (5th Level): A limited dispel magic ability that can serve to shut down magical traps, remove buffs from a target, or clear debuffs off yourself and allies. It has a range limitation of touch, but if you’re a melee kind of character that isn’t too bad.

Abjuration Spells

  • 0-level: The only option you get here is Resistance, which won’t stack with your Resonant power. So you’re left giving out a +1 Resistance bonus to your allies once in a while.
  • 1st-level; A few good options here, notably Shield (for when you want to use a 2-hand weapon) as well as Weapon Ward (for when you want to cast in combat).
  • 2nd-level: These spells are all pretty situational. Of these spells I think that Node of Blasting will serve you best, although Resist Energy is also a good staple defensive spell to hand out to your party (limited somewhat by your better Focus Powers).
  • 3rd-level: Dispel Magic, Explosive Runes, Communal Resist Energy, and Protection from Energy are all great options. If you’ve got the energy resisting focus powers the last two spells won’t help you much, but if you’re not a front line fighter you’re allies will thank you for it. None of the spells at this level are really bad, but I feel Dispel Magic will serve you best since you can likely only pick one spell.
  • 4th-level: This level of magic is blue if only for Dimensional Anchor. There are other good options out there, but once enemies get access to teleport it becomes critical to shut that crap down or else the big bad will escape time and again.
  • 5th-level: Greater Dispel Magic and Spell Resistance are your best two options here. Nothing flashy, but they are good staples that you won’t regret having.
  • 6th-level: Many of these spells are redundant with force powers you could take at lower levels. Forbiddance and Symbol of Vulnerability require some setup time but are well worth it once they are active. Repulsion can save your bacon as well.

Conjuration Implements

Conjuration has more red options, in my opinion, than any other implement school, but it isn’t as bad as it appears. If you’re happy with your other implements, Conjuration makes a solid 2nd level pickup. You can safely put just a few Focus into your implement for Servitor  and then pickup healing and utility spells just so that you’ve got them. You don’t have to take any of the focus powers, but you might pick up one or two at later levels.

Casting Focus (Resonant Power): This is would be an early boost for low level summoners if there were more spells it effected.  The only spell you have that are 1 round per level is Glitterdust (lvl 2). Basically you’re only use for this is to hand it off to the party Conjurer and then summon yourself a new implement with Conjure Implement (which will only last 10 minutes per level). So basically it’s useless to you. I keep rereading it in hopes that I misread it before, or that I’m missing something key.

Servitor (Base Focus Power): Now we’re talking. You get to summon monsters for a minute. That’s the duration of a level 10 summon monster spell, and it scales up. Better yet, you can just keep the creature out by spending focus. Even better, there are a ton of creatures you can summon that cast spells, so this gives you access to a wide range of both combat and utility abilities.

Conjure Implement (Any level): I don’t see this ability coming into play a lot, unless your GM likes to strip the party of their equipment on a regular basis.  There are only a few corner cases that come to mind to make this worth taking. It might bump up if your GM REALLY appreciates cleverness.

Flesh Mend (3rd level): Not a bad heal power, and it scales well enough to matter. You’re not going to be the group primary healing source, but you can certainly be respectable in a pinch.

Mind Steed (Any level): It’s a shorter duration mount spell that can eventually fly. It’s not bad on its own, but the opportunity cost of all the missed alternative focus powers puts this one into the red.

Psychic Fog (3rd level): Obscuring mist isn’t a bad effect for your party rogue, but this power really doesn’t get good until 7th level when it mimics solid fog, which lets you get a bit more creative. If you like this ability, I recommend postponing it until at least level 7.

Purge Corruption (5th level): If you see a lot of poison and disease in play this can be helpful, but the Heal skill, scrolls, or a paladin/cleric can handle these problems without you have to dedicate an entire Focus Power to it.

Side Step (7th level): This one is worded strangely, as it says it works like teleport… which has a failure chance based on how well you know the area you’re heading to; however, the power has a short duration. I think they wanted it to simply not require line of site to the destination, and I’m hoping it gets errata’d to be more clear as to the intended effect. It’s green now, but will jump to blue if it the wording changes.

Conjuration Spells

  • 0-level: Create Water and Stabilize aren’t terrible, of which I think Stabilize will find more dramatic use.
  • 1st-level; You could pick up Cure Light Wounds here, and with Flesh Meld added in  you’ve got a lot of d8s to pump into your party right from the get-go. The rest of the spells don’t really do much for you, although Mount here is probably a better choice than as a Focus power.
  • 2nd-level: Communal mount is a nice group escape spell, and of course cure moderate wounds isn’t bad. However, Glitterdust is the best spell available here, especially as something a spontaneous caster can toss around.
  • 3rd-level: There aren’t a lot of flashing options here, but you’ve got a few good work horse spells. Cure Serious Wounds can save a life, and minor creation can be used in enough creative non-combat ways to be a good quality of life upgrade.
  • 4th-level: Dimension door is a classically useful spell, and it opens up some interesting feat chains. If teleporting isn’t your thing (or you have the focus power) then major creation is another great problem solving spell.
  • 5th-level: Lesser planar binding works well with your magic circle class ability, and by the time you get the spell you’ve got a decent enough circle. This opens up a some options later in your career that adds something new to your repertoire. Likewise,  Wall of Stone can see frequent use, especially in dungeons.
  • 6th-level: Not much of real use here, other than wall of iron, and planar binding. You’re probably going to be using your other 6th level spells more often.

Divination Implements

Unsurprisingly, Divination does what it says on the tin. It provides a wide array of spells and abilities suitable for espionage and research. It doesn’t blow things up in combat, but it does turn the character into a super sleuth. The resonant and base power are good enough that divination can find a home early in almost any Occultists arsenal of implements, and it’s a great level 6 choice even in a martial or dungeon crawling campaign.

Third Eye (Resonant Power): If you’re a human, this power is very helpful early on, and if you’re the party scout this is even better. I rate it as blue because it scales so well for a passive ability that is basically always on. Having reliably “always on” see invisibility and dark vision by level 7 isn’t flashy, but Pathfinder will frequently reward you for having them.

Sudden Insight (Base Focus Power): A +1 doesn’t feel like a lot at level 1, but this scales rapidly. Because of the way a d20 roll works, by the time this is giving you a +5 bonus on demand, you’re going to love having it. Around level 10 you’ll probably have 9 focus in your implement, so that’s 9 times a day you can add a +5 to a skill check or attack.

Danger Sight (3rd level): While not as potent as the more narrow defensive Abjuration Focus Powers, this one can be applied to a wide range of options. As with Sudden Sight, you can safely use this frequently for bonuses to critical defensive moments.

Future Gaze (Any level): Augury is one of those odd spells that relies so heavily on the GM guessing that it might as well be useless.  Not because GMs are jerks, but because players tend to take approach problems in cinema inspired ways that render this power more a story point than a reliable mechanic you want to invest in. If I’m running a game and I want my players to have this sort of effect (which I often do) I’ll give them an item that does this.

Mind Eye (5th level): The perfect spy ability. I know Diviner-Wizards who would sell their familiar for this kind of trick. It’s invisible (+20 stealth) and Fine (+16 stealth) so it’s going to be pretty hard to spot. Seeing what is beyond the door, or hearing the enemy’s plans, drastically changes entire encounters… or the path of whole campaigns! Having frequent access to this sort of ability is a game changer in almost any campaign.

Object Seer (7th level): I rate this fairly low because it won’t see frequent use, and when it does you’re probably going to get a lot of the same information out of your Object Reading class ability (which works on mundane items just fine).

Powerful Connection (any level): Because Mind Eye is so good, I have hard time rating this ability above orange. If you’re looking divine frequently this can be useful, but those spells don’t come around until much later. If you’re dead set on being a magical bloodhound, however, this will help you do achieve that goal.

Watchful Eye (any level): Of the focus powers available at level 1 this is the best divination option, which gives it a little bump in color rating. If your campaign is functioning on a high intrigue sort of game this is blue. Why? Because it effectively gives you a security camera in a medieval setting. This has a lot of investigation and spying uses.

Divination Spells

  • 0-level: Detect Magic and Detect Psychic Significance are used so frequently that not having Detect Magic as a caster is a big deal. Not as big a deal for an occultist, but picking up here is great. Read Magic, likewise, is a boon if you’re looking at heavy scroll use. I recommend choosing Read Magic and then getting a wand of Detect Magic early on.
  • 1st-level; Your high int score gives you extra languages, but not so many that comprehend languages won’t see use. In addition, detect secret doors is pretty great for a spontaneous caster who sees a lot of dungeon time.
  • 2nd-level: Create Treasure Map is just a crazy spell. Not just useful, but interesting in its application. Locate object can also be used in sweeping patterns (usually over the course of days) during an investigation, if you get creative.
  • 3rd-level: Seek thoughts is just an immensely useful tool in investigation focused campaigns. Likewise, Retrocognition is just an amazing tool at a crime scene!
  • 4th-level: There are several of the best divination spells at this level that aren’t rendered less useful by Mind Eye. Detect Scrying being one of the big ones for paranoid (or competent) characters.
  • 5th-level: Between Battlemind Link, Find Quarry, and True Seeing, you’re going to have some tough choices to make.  Of those, Battlemind Link is pretty flashy, and will make a martial party member love you (and you them).
  • 6th-level: By the time you get these spells you’ve already figure out creative uses for your other scrying spells and abilities. You’re likely to just take an upgrade to one of your other abilities here, for the higher DCs and effectiveness. You can grab Scrying (greater), for instance, and then swap out a lower level spell when you get the chance.

Enchantment Implements

The enchantment school focuses heavily on “save or suck” spells, crowd control, and turning the enemy against themselves. It does it fairly well too, especially with Focus Powers that are souped up versions of traditional control spells. Unfortunately your spell list doesn’t scale well, since the DCs are tied to spell levels that you get later. You’re going to need Spell Focus Enchantment to have much chance of making them work, and even then you might be better off taking the utility options instead (although there aren’t many of those).

Glorious Presence (Resonant Power): Nothing flashy here, just a solid boost to a wide range of skills. A boost to diplomacy and UMD are great, and if you use a trait to get Bluff in class, all the better. If you’re the party face you should consider picking up the Enchantment school.

Cloud Mind (Base Focus Power): Basically a better version of the daze spell, this ability has limited use, as the best you can hope for is to steal a turn from a creature that is your HD or lower. You’ve likely got better things to do on your turn.

Binding Pattern (7th level): Hold Person is always a good spell, and the DC on this power scales with level. If you’re looking to be a master of crowd control this is a good tool to have.

Forced Alliance (5th level): Essentially a charm person effect with a broader range of targets and a better scaling save. It’s combat uses are more limited than they would appear, but if your saves are high enough you can turn an enemy to your side for a few rounds.

Inspired Assault (Any level): A nice little buff, and you’ve likely got enough focus to hand it out to a friend or two. Unless you have a bard in the group, this is a good “about to bust down the door” buff to hand to a damage dealer.

Mental Discord (Any level): Now here’s a great debuff that you can take at level 1. You won’t use it in every fight, but when you do it’s a big deal. Just remember that primary casters (like wizards and clerics) usually have decent will saves. But if you stick it to them (and you can keep trying each round) they will have a hard time casting their higher level spells. On the flipside, it’s more likely to land on some partial casters (paladins being a notable exception) but those targets will have an easier time passing the concentration checks. If nothing else, landing it on a target imposes a -2 will save penalty for your future spells and abilities.

Mind Slumber (3rd level): Another really solid crowd control spell. If you’re dealing with a single opponent then you should have a plan for how you’re going to manipulate it on your turn. Try to come up with some hurried Jigsaw (from the SAW movies) situations to put the target in when it wakes up. It’s only green because it allows a save every round.

Obey (Any level): A standard command spell, but again, with the benefit of a scaling saving throw. Bonus points if you’re a common race in your setting (like human), as the -2 penalty to resist is nothing to sneeze at. If you’re looking to focus on enchantment, this is the flashiest enchantment power once you get some experience with it.

Enchantment Spells

  • 0-level: Your only option is Daze, which your Base Focus Power does does better. Once you’re fighting things with a few HD under their belt this becomes useless.
  • 1st-level; Many of the spells on this list are mimicked by Focus powers in a more potent fashion, although Forbid Action, Hypnotism, and Murderous Command are all solid choices with unique mechanical effects (if on the same control theme).
  • 2nd-level: Demand Offering is a new spell with a range of possibilities. Investigative Mind also offers a bump to a few int-based skill checks that is pretty hefty as well. Nothing stands out as particularly useful, however, as Focus Powers can usually get the job done better.
  • 3rd-levelHere are some more crowd control options. Although at this point you’re getting spells late enough that monsters are having a harder time resisting them. If you want to do crowd control for the long haul I recommend Focus Powers instead. Deep Slumber, for instance, isn’t an option until level 7, and it stops being potent 3 or 4 levels later.
  • 4th-level: Now we’re talking with Mind Swap. there are a lot of possibilities here. After all, it’s a lot easier for the group to tackle and subdue the big bad if his mind is in your body. All the while you happily tie yourself up while in his body. Or how about infiltrating the enemy hideout in the body of one of their trusted soldiers? There are a few other spells on the list, but I can’t imagine taking them over Mind Swap.
  • 5th-level: More crowd control with a save lower than you’d like. Of all these I think Inflict Pain (mass) is going to be your most useful spell, because it’s guaranteed to at least do something (if not much).
  • 6th-level: While most of your spells are getting resisted once and then they are done, Dream Cloak forces multiple creatures to save every turn or fall asleep, with no HD limit. Lots of stuff is immune to sleep by the time you get it, but the things that aren’t might actually fail a save often enough to make this worthwhile to cast in the pre-buffing before a planned combat.

Evocation Implements

Evocation suffers from the same problem as Enchantment, as the spell DCs don’t scale as well as the Focus Power DCs. However, those powers still do something (usually half damage) on a save, so it fairs considerably better. If you’re looking to be a party nuker this school can actually pull it off, but you’ll be using Focus Powers to pull much of that off. Melee based Occultists are going to get less out of this school, but there are still utility and flexibility options worth taking (like wall spells).

Intense Focus (Resonant Power): This is a workhorse buff, granting a bonus to the Occultists direct damage evocation abilities. The buff adds up, and it makes the Energy Ray base power a respectable little blast after a few levels (3d6+3 by level 6).

Energy Ray (Base Focus Power): This isn’t a powerful blast, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is better than ray powers that many classes get (which is usually 1d6+1/2levels) and only a little less powerful than the Kineticist’s basic blast. Combined with a high number of possible uses per day, and this power serves a character fairly well.

Energy Blast (5th Level): An area effect version of Energy Ray, this ability functions like a small fireball on demand. Combined with the bonus from Intense Focus, and the scaling save, and this power serves to be a solid nuke you can toss around enough times per day to actually matter.

Energy Ward (7th Level): If you’re a melee focused Occultist you’ll get more out of this ability than if you want to blast at range. The resistance to an energy type serves well, but the damage shield doesn’t scale well enough to be worth it at level 7.  Since most creatures are resistant to the type of energy they naturally breathe/cause the two different portions of this ability don’t usually work at the same time. If you want elemental protection then an Abjuration Focus Power will serve you better.

Light Matrix: (Any level): This power starts off fairly weak as a light source spell, but at level 5 it gains a nifty blind trick. However, it just doesn’t do much compared to other focus powers.

Radiance (Any level): This power is slightly better than Light Matrix, because it can dispel magical darkness fairly easy after a few levels. However, added effect on a critical hit isn’t going to see much use, as an actual Glitterdust spell or See Invisibility will work more reliably.

Shape Mastery (Any level): If you like throwing around large area effects, this ability can let you avoid hitting your party members, which they will appreciate. Usually only 2 or 3 party members will be in the danger zone, so this power lets you get more frequent use of spells like Burning Hands and Fireball. I rate this as blue, because if you want this power you’ll use it very frequently. Only take it if you plan to be launching a lot of area attacks, however.

Wall of Power (9th level): As battlefield control abilities go, this one isn’t very potent, as it simply causes a moderate amount of damage to creatures passing through the wall. If it blocked sight it would have more uses, but as it stands it probably won’t do as much damage as the base power when it is activated, unless you have a way to trap the enemy in the area for its duration.

Evocation Spells

  • 0-level: You’re likely going to get more service out of Light or Spare than you will out of the other abilities. If you’re just desperate for a cantrip attack telekentic projectile is the best cantrip attack, but you’ll probably have something better to do on your turn.
  • 1st-level; Shocking Grasp, combined with the Magical Lineage trait and Reach metamagic can give you a 5d6 level 1 spell at 25ft if you’re looking for more direct nuking. Burning Hands will probably be your choice.
  • 2nd-level: Burning Gaze can be fun, but its damage rapidly becomes inconsequential. However, Flaming Sphere has hidden efficiency, in that if you direct it each round it can often cleanup creatures that only have a few hitpoints left, allowing your groups heavy hitters to move on to fresh targets.  The list of options is long enough that you’ll probably find something that plays well with your party role somewhere (like Pilfering Hand if you’re the scout).
  • 3rd-level: This is the level with all the nukes, too bad you don’t get 3rd level spell until 7th level. the DC of also doesn’t scale like your focus powers. They are good backups, but you might find you prefer blasting with Elemental Ray or Elemental Blast. It still rates as green, however, as you can work to keep your DCs high enough to stay viable longer. Plus Call Lightning has a high degree of efficiency when combined with Flaming Sphere that is hard to match in spells (just cast both and control them every round, you only use up 2 spells for the fight, but get to do something decent every round).
  • 4th-level: Ball lightning does the work of flaming sphere, only much better, and Spirit-Bound weapon is a nice flexible buff for melee focused Occultists. This is also the level where Wall spells become available, providing some nice battlefield control.
  • 5th-level: If you’re doing the efficiency combo (call lightning + flaming sphere) then this level sees another upgrade with call lightning storm, and Fire Snake or Cone of Cold give you more area blast options with shapes not provided by your Focus Powers. You get these spells a little late, however, to rate them better.
  • 6th-level: None of the blasts do enough at the level you gain them, and you’re really going to feel the hit in save DCs of being so far behind 9-level casters. You’re best off taking a utility spell, like Contingency, that lets you get creative.

Illusion Implements

The best illusion options are those that provide invisibility of one form or another. There are lots of them, and quite a few options for generating a miss chance against you. These spells are best used by creative players (in games with a GM who appreciates shenanigans). Melee focused Occultists will find use in the spells that grant a miss chance, or create mirror images.

Distortion (Resonant Power): The miss chance provided is pretty small for most of your career, but it can always be on at the start of a fight. It requires a standard action to turn on, and it breaks once you attack, but it can be activated frequently enough that it will block a few hits.

Minor Figment (Base Focus Power): Like many illusion abilities, this one favors the creative. If you like playing the trickster this power will see frequent use. I rate it as blue because I have faith in your ability to apply this power in interesting ways, although you may need two castings to get some effects going.

Cloak Image (Any level): Disguise self is one of those really handy effects that often goes overlooked. The sheer number of times you can use this ability (and the ability to share later on) makes this a nice quality of life ability for the bluffer / party face.

Color Beam (Any level): Blinded is a good effect, but dazzled is pretty sub-par. The will save to negate this fairly minor effect make it a poor choice over other Illusion focus powers.  What’s worse, is you can’t even use it every round to keep something lower level than you blinded for more than a single turn.

Masquerade (7th level): You’ll probably get more mileage out of Cloak Image, unless you’re just dead set on impersonating people.

Mirage (5th level): If you’re one of those tricksy players, this ability begins to shine. It is especially good because you can use it so many times in a day. This can quickly become a staple power in your illusion arsenal as the area affected grows.

Shadow Beast (9th level): There is a lot of utility in Summon Monster, not just combat applications. In addition, the standard action cast time, and boost to damage from disbelievers (50% up from 20%) makes this a great focus power.

Unseen (3rd level): I can’t even begin to describe how useful this is, as invisibility on demand never gets old. You (or your party damage dealer) can even act offensively if you’re willing to spend focus every time you do.

Illusion Spells

  • 0-level: Ghost sound is your only option, this is rated orange instead of red since ghost sound has some uses, but some choice would be nice.
  • 1st-level; Your focus powers are likely going to get more illusion causing use. Shadow Weapon, on the other hand, scales pretty well, and if your save DC is high enough it can serve as an emergency weapon option. Additionally, Illusion of Calm can really help prevent attacks of opportunity while you engage in other actions. Vanish provides some low level invisibility, but once you can cast invisibility or use Unseen it should get replaced.
  • 2nd-level: If you like your concealment percentage from the Resonant Power, then Blur is going to find frequent use, especially if you’re a melee Occultist. Mirror Image is equally useful as a defensive buff. You can probably skip the other spells (even invisibility) in favor of Focus powers. A special mention needs to go out for Instigate Psychic Duel, as it can be a key feature of Occult campaigns. Even in no occult campaigns it can lock a powerful enemy down for quite some time… if you’re willing to put your brain in harms way.
  • 3rd-level: Invisibility sphere and Displacement are great spells that never go out of style.
  • 4th-level: Greater Invisibility is worth taking, even with your Focus Power, more as a buff for other party members than for yourself (but you can still use it as a defensive boost). Otherwise Illusory Wall or Shocking Image are decent green choices.
  • 5th-level: Persistent Image comes a little late for you to get much real use out of it, and the other options are lackluster minor improvements. Mislead is probably the most useful.
  • 6th-level: Of the two options I prefer Permanent Image (especially for complex deceptions) but it comes so late in your career that you’ve probably grown accustomed to other approaches to problem solving.

Necromancy Implements

The Necromancy Implement provides not one, but two decent minion options that last 10 minutes per level, and that can be recast frequently. Combined with animate dead and the base resonant power and you’ve got a competent necromancer at your disposal. It also has a fear/curse line of options (most in spells) that combos well with Enchantment if you’re in a primary debuffer/controller role.

Necromantic Focus (Resonant Power): This is a doozy of a power, allowing for much larger undead hordes or single creatures to be created and controlled. If that wasn’t enough, it imposes a negative to saves that undead make against any of your spells and effects (from any school). Undead is a common enough creature type that this is a pretty useful secondary effect.

Mind far (Base Focus Power): Shaken isn’t a bad effect to toss onto big monsters, and Frightened is fantastic crowd control. Still the power comes in at orange because you’re going to probably have better options for achieving your goals.

Flesh Rot (3rd level): This doesn’t heal undead, so it isn’t as useful as inflict wounds, and its restricted targeting makes it pretty lackluster even as an attack.

Necromantic Servant (Any level): For the low level Occultist this is an amazing power. While the base skeleton is pretty weak, the boost to HP, BaB, and Damage keeps it useful as you level, as does the template and splitting powers. All in all, it’s a good little disposable minion. Most GMs will rule that it is summoned without weapons and armor (which is likely the intention). At low levels you should invest in an armored coat and a weapon/buckler that you can hand your new minion when you summon it. This avoids using up precious minutes waiting for it to put on better armor.

Pain Wave (7th level): Sickened is a descent debuff to hand out, and even if your target succeeds on its save they are sickened for one round. Its an area effect, so it also works to soften up the enemy’s saves for your party. Just an all around good work-horse ability that will see some mileage. It’s only green because you don’t get it until 7th level.

Psychic Curse (5th level): The pain confusion component lasts for days, so it can be a nice debuff to put on a target you plan to engage later on (especially if you have some crit-fishers in your group). In addition, the mental block and memory lapse effects are likewise super useful, so the flexibility of this power pushes into the blue.

Soulbound Puppet (Any level): Another small minion power, this one is slightly less offensive than the skeleton/zombie option, but both can be active, and familiars have some nice effect boosts. Keep a small collection of animal skulls on hand and you can swap between them fairly regularly.

Spirit Shroud (3rd level): Another defensive buff, this one in the form of temporary hitpoints. This can be as good (or better) in cases where you can pre-buff before a fight.

Necromancy Spells

  • 0-level: Touch of Fatigue is the “good” spell on the list, but special mention needs to go out to Grave Words, just for being really creepy to cast. If you want to play up the halloween-style horror of your character it can sometimes be useful (just do it all the time and hope for the best).
  • 1st-level; Other than the corpse altering spells (which have limited use) the two options are Cause Fear (which has a HD limit) and Inflict Light Wounds. Of these, Inflict Light Wounds is used to heal your undead, so you’re probably going to want to go with that.
  • 2nd-level: Lesser Animate Dead is the big stand out here, getting you an early start on your undead horde/servant. If you are a more melee focused Occultist then take a look at Brow Gasher. Bleed damage that scales (and has no save) really adds up.
  • 3rd-level: Chances are high you’re going to want Animate Dead. If you’re not doing the undead army thing, however, Bestow Curse is a pretty potent debuff that also rates blue if your save DCs are high enough.
  • 4th-level: Between Possession and Fear this spell level has some solid utility/control options. It comes online a little late, but at least the options aren’t redundant.
  • 5th-level: Suffocation is a useful option because it is resisted by Fortitude instead of Will. So many spells and powers in your arsenal use Will saves that you’re going to have a hard time with casting enemies. Having an ace in the hole that might hit them on a weaker save is just a good strategy.
  • 6th-level: There isn’t really anything great at this level, so it might be time to pick up harm or greater possession as upgrades to earlier spells you find useful.

Transmutation School

If I were rating the schools themselves I would rate Transmutation as blue. It’s fantastic for martial (both ranged and melee) Occultists, almost to the point of being a must have selection. Many of the focus powers are impressive, and almost every level has multiple good spells. It tapers off at higher levels, but that’s an issue all 6-level casters share.

Physical Enhancement (Resonant Power): It’s as good as a +2 attribute belt at level 1, and it frees up your belt slot later on. Alternatively, you can wear an attribute belt for one stat and then buff up another, saving you precious gold. All in all, this is a great passive ability, even if it does take 3 focus to power up.

Legacy Weapon (Base Focus Power): For a martial (ranged or melee) occultist this ability really shines, allowing you to gain special weapon qualities at earlier than normal. All you need is a +1 weapon and you can start laying on effects like bane, keen, or holy, as you need them.

Mind Over Gravity (7th level): It’s flight, and a pretty good version of it too. It lasts plenty long enough and has perfect maneuverability.

Philosopher’s Touch (Any level): Cold Iron and Silver weapons aren’t so expensive that you need to worry about taking this. Most players can afford to begin the game with a Cold Iron Spear (just in case you need it) and by the time you need silver or adamantine weapons you’ll be able to afford one, or at least a few blanches for arrows.

Quickness (5th level):  While the Haste spell allows you to buff the entire party, if you’re not worried about doing that this does provide a minor upgrade. I’d rather take the spell at 7th level, however, than using up Focus Power.

Size Alteration (Any level): It’s enlarge and reduce person, but as a standard instead of a 1 round casting time. It doesn’t seem like much, but that’s a big boost. However it’s on a shorter duration, so this power doesn’t really become effective in combat until about level 5, and by then its potency is tapering off.

Sudden Speed (Any level): A swift action to gain 30ft to your move speed? Not bad at all, and it has a decent duration. Definitely good for getting into melee… or running away. At early levels, if you’re in medium armor, this boosts your speed up to that of a horse.

Telekenetic Mastery (9th level): Standard telekenesis is a pretty good spell, this is better, as you can still cast spells while maintaining the ability. You have to wait until level 9, but once you get this power it can be a big problem solver in a variety of situations.

Transmutation Spells

  • 0-level: Of the knacks (aka cantrip) powers, Transmutation has the best selection, both in numbers and quality. Mage Hand, Mending, and Open Close will all see frequent use.
  • 1st-level; Another plethora (fun word) of options here, and many of them very good. Lead Blades and Gravity Bow really shine for boosting martial damage.
  • 2nd-level: This level is a little less potent, but it has some solid options. Rope Trick, for instance, can help when hiding and resting. Nothing really flashy, but a few spells you’ll find useful.
  • 3rd-level: Haste, Fly, and Stone Shape are big spells, of which I find Haste to be used the most, since focus powers can handle flight.
  • 4th-level: There are a few decent spells in here, but you’re really going to have to look for ways to make them work. I rate this orange, because everything here takes work to make them worthwhile.
  • 5th-level: Here’s another mediocre level, where the best spell (telekinesis) is replicated better by a force power.
  • 6th-level: Disintegrate is a solid nuke, but you get everything on this list too late to make it worthwhile.

Next up, Part 3: Feats, Traits, & Equipment!

Pathfinder Occultist Guide: Part One

The Occultist Basics

Let’s talk about all the basic stuff the Occultist character has going for him.

d8 Hit Points – Pretty standard. Of course more hp would be better, but with an average of 5hp per level (before con) the character can take a few hits. His resilience can be even better with his focus powers, so the d8 doesn’t hold the character back much, if at all.

Skills – As a primary Int caster (we’ll talk about that in a moment with the stats) you’re going to have plenty of skill points, often in the same range as a rogue. This is good, because the Occultist has some of the best skills in the game, and you’re going to want them.

The class can identify most most monsters using Knowledge Arcana, Planes, and Religion. He has Disable Device, which lets him handle traps and lockpicking (with magic traps answered by spells). He’s also got Perception and Use Magic Device, which are often two of the most important skills in the game.

Saves – Two strong saves is very nice, and the Occultist has lots of options for covering his ass on saves in his powers. Of all the saves, Reflex is the one I don’t mind having a bit lower. Failing a Fort or Will save is often crippling, but most Reflex saves only snare your character or deal HP damage, which means you can keep fighting if you have a ranged option or some courage.

Proficiency – Martial weapons, shields, and medium armor… not bad at all. If you’re running a character with a low-ish dex you can also pick up Heavy Armor Training without a dent in your spellcasting.

Attributes

Ok, so here is the hard part. There are a few different ways to play an Occultist, but they all rely on Intelligence for spellcasting and skills, and either Dexterity or Strength to keep the character effective in combat.

Strength – I recommend this approach to combat because it isn’t feat intensive. You’ll need Power Attack and a good 2-handed weapon, but other than that you’ll be able to keep up the pressure, even with your 3/4-BaB, thanks to powers. You’re unlikely to match a dedicated martial, but you won’t feel left out either.

Dexterity – If you plan to focus on ranged attacks, such as rays or Focus Power blasts then Dexterity is much more important. With weapon finesse you can even dump strength if you feel like it, but that does curtail your options a bit.

Constitution – Always important for keeping a character alive. A small bonus wouldn’t be bad. If you’re using a point-buy and have a point left over, this is the best place to put it. An 11 Con is actually better than a 10 Con, as it will keep you alive an extra round before  bleeding out.

Intelligence – Int sets your DCs, determines your mental focus, and gives you more skills. Put everything you can into Intelligence, even if you plan to use spells that aren’t resisted, as it determines your mental focus as well, which is imperative to the effective Occultist.

Wisdom – While not a true dump stat, Wisdom is the safest stat to ignore. You’ve got a decent Will save, augmented by possible Focus powers, and your skills don’t make heavy use of Wisdom, except for Perception.

Charisma – Oddly, this can be a dump stat. While I prefer to keep it in the 10 to 11 range, you don’t need it for skills or abilities. Magic Item Skill (see class abilities below) gives you a +1 bonus to UMD every 2 levels, so you won’t be hurting for that skill. You could, theoretically, even play a race with a penalty to Charisma without being hurt too badly.

Races

Let’s talk about the races for a minute. The Occultist benefits so much from Intelligence that it becomes difficult to recommend a race that doesn’t have an Int bonus. Anything with an Int negative is immediately Red and should be avoided.  I’m going to discuss the core races, and then any races that I consider Blue. If I don’t mention a race, then it defaults to Green if it has an int bonus, and Orange if it does not.

Dwarf – None of the racial abilities help much, although a Dwarven War-axe is pretty nice, and you do get access to that with your Martial Weapon Proficiency. The stats are a wash, not buffing or hurting anything important. The favored class bonus is also very situational.

Elf – Int and Dex make for a good ranged character. Combined with weapon finesse and an Elven Curveblade and you’re doing pretty good with both a bows or in melee. In addition, almost every racial trait really ties in well. Of all this, however, the most potent is the favored class bonus, which gives you 1/2 of a mental focus point every level. That’s really going to add up.

Gnome – Slightly better than the dwarf, if you want to use the Illusion school, the Gnome isn’t bad, but it doesn’t shine in this role either. None of the racial abilities hurt an Occultist, however, if you’re going for a ranged build. It’s also coupled with a favored class bonus that is a bit underwhelming.

Half-Elves – I prefer the Half-Elf for classes I plan to multi-class with, which the Occultist doesn’t do very well. However, Skill Focus UMD can put your score into the “can’t fail” range before level 10, and the +2 to any stat isn’t bad. The Half-Elf favored class bonus doesn’t really do much. However, there is some debate about whether or not Half-Elves can take human and elf favored class bonuses. My reading suggests that they can (and I would allow it in my games), but many GMs will likely rule against it. If your GM says yes, this race becomes blue.

Half-Orcs – Like the Half-Elf, this is a pretty good option without being excellent. The race is tough, which can really help in a lurch, and a +2 anywhere can go into Int. If you’re going to try a blaster route then the favored class bonus adds some additional damage, and this race might appeal to you more.

Halflings – Like the Dwarf and the Gnome, none of the attribute modifiers are really a big deal. The bonus to Dex isn’t bad, but the other racial traits won’t really be felt by most Occultists. It has the same favored class bonus as Elves, which somewhat makes up for the lack of an int modifier.

Humans – Unlike most classes, I feel that Human isn’t an excellent option for an Occultist. The +2 to any stat is great, and +1 skill point isn’t bad, but you’re going to have plenty of skill points (you won’t need to keep them all maxed). The bonus feat is usually the big draw, but the Occultist doesn’t need a lot of feats unless you’re wanting to dedicate to a rather lengthy feat chain (like ranged attacks or two-weapon fighting). In addition, getting 1/6 of a new focus power as a racial bonus is certainly not bad. Takes a bit to see your investments, but it is effectively a free feat every 6 levels.

Dhampir – A Green choice that can bump up into Blue if you focus on Necromancy and are either Jiang-Shi or Vetala Born (there was an errata that changed the Vetala to a +2 int).

Drow – Blue for all the same reasons as the Elf, plus some useful spell-like abilities.

Ratfolk – Int and Dex are great, plus Tinker and Darkvision. The only real drawback is being Slow, which means you’re only moving 15ft in medium or heavy armor.

Samsaran – Int bonus and a +2 to two skills of your choice is pretty nice for an early UMD and Perception boost. The magic options they have are good too (especially comprehend languages). You can also use the skill bonus to gain a couple of in class skills (like stealth if you want to handle scouting duties).

Slyph – Another good Int and Dex choice. Just be sure to trade out Air Affinity for some other racial trait, since you won’t get much use out of it (Breeze-Kissed is fun for this).

Tieflings – Just like Slyphs, a great choice but you’ll want to swap out Fiendish Sorcery. The standout here is Prehensile Tail, as it can be used to hold an Implement or even a wand… it just can’t be used to wield a weapon.

Wayang – A bonus to int starts off well, but most of the racial traits don’t really help. It frankly gets bumped down to green, despite the int bonus.

Class Abilities

Ok, let’s get into the big part. I’ll be skipping spell-casting for now, as well as the detailed focus powers, as those will be covered in detail when we get to the Implement Schools. We’ll mention how they function here, but the details of each power will be touched on in the school itself.

Spellcasting – A 6 spell level spontaneous caster brings a lot of tricks to the table, but he won’t match the flexibility or raw power of a dedicated 9 spell level caster. In addition, expect to see many spells resisted at high levels, which reduces the effectiveness of blasts and debuff spells in the long run.

Mental Focus – This is your resource mechanic. You get your level + your int mod, and you’re always going to want more than you have, so the Extra Mental Focus feat isn’t a bad choice early on (around 3 or 5 is a good time to get it).

Each day you’ll dedicate your focus to one of your implements, which unlocks a passive buff called a Resonant Power. This passive buff scales with additional focus invested and has different effects depending on the school (that’s discussed in detail in each school).

Implements – Each implement corresponds to a different school of magic, granting spells known and a base focus power. They also determine which Focus Powers you have access to as you level. This is the keystone ability of the Occultist. You’ll know one spell of each spell level for each implement, which starts off slow, but quickly expands as you level and gain new implements.

Focus Powers – Each implement comes with a base power and additional Focus Powers that can be selected at odd levels. Some have level requirements, and some are better than others. We’ll discuss these in detail in the implement listings. Each one required that you spend focus from the item you’ve invested, which is fine. The Implement stores the Focus, and its Resonant (passive) ability doesn’t dwindle or shut off until the Implement is out of Focus, so you can safely go to town spending it.

Magic Item Skill – A flat +1/2 level to UMD is great early on, but it quickly becomes overkill (once you have a +19 you can activate most wands and such without a chance of failure).

Object Reading – A nice quality of life upgrade (you auto-identify magic items). The ability to object read is fantastic in investigation games where the GM can give clever clues, but don’t expect a GM to let it work on just any object. A murder weapon? Awesome! A pencil on a writing desk? Probably not. It’s a thematic ability, but the usefulness hinges more on the campaign and GM. Still a solid green, however, just for auto-identify.

Shift Focus – A useful tool if you desperately need to move your focus around your implements out of combat, but the tax is pretty hefty. Try to plan in advance to avoid having to do this, since it can cause your implement’s resonant ability to dwindle.

Aura Sight – It’s better than detect evil, but since it requires a standard action every round to use it becomes limited.

Magic Circles – Rarely does this power get used, due to its 1 minute cast time. However, it does have one small advantage over normal circles, in that the creature that wishes to break it must be living. This makes it very good at keeping undead at bay. Horde of zombies on the way? Toss down a magic circle and then just shoot them from inside.  This is also an amazing ability for dealing with ghosts. I only wish it came sooner!

Outside Contact – Another good investigation tool that, by the time you get it, might as well be free. Dropping 10 to 30gp at level 8 isn’t really a big deal. This ability can be really good, based on your GM, but is usually just thematic.

Binding Circles – Solid ability, allowing you to use Magic Circles as traps against living creatures. With proper setup, this can be pretty amazing, but it won’t be used very often. Still I gave it a green because when it does work, it can neutralize some big threats.

Fast Circles – Drops the circle time down to a full-round action. It comes online way to late, and reduces the effective time of the circles.

Implement Mastery – A good capstone, but like all capstones you’re more likely to see it on an enemy combatant you’re forced to fight at level 16+ than you are to actually have time to use it yourself.

Next up, Part 2: Instrument Schools!

Of Wands, Cups, and Blades: A guide to the Pathfinder Occultist

With the release of the new Occult Adventures I thought I would try my hand at a Treantmonk style guide to the Occultist, my personal favorite class out of the book. The Occultist is a psychic caster with a focus on implements, and the mechanics are “pleasantly byzantine.” There are a lot of moving parts, and a fair number of pitfalls, but the class has a lot of potential, and I find that it scratches the itch I’ve had to play a character with a focus on magic items, like the old 3.5 artificer.

First the standard explanation of the color coding system that is used to review the class mechanically. Introduced in Treantmonk’s Wizard Guide, this color system is pretty straight forward.

  • Red – This mechanic has significant problems, either because it is significantly under-powered, or because it is unlikely to get used.
  • Orange – This is a fair option, often chosen for roleplaying reasons. It has a minor positive impact on the characters effectiveness.
  • Green – This is a good mechanic that will see frequent use and provides a respectable option to the character.
  • Blue – This is a class defining ability, and in some cases a requirement for the class to function in its role properly. It is critical that a player understand how blue mechanics function so that they can make informed decisions about their character.

One final note on style. I am going to attempt to provide information without forming an opinion on what the “Best Occultist” is, as there are just too many table variation factors for each campaign for this to really be useful. In addition, the goal of Pathfinder is to have fun, and sometimes selecting a sub-optimal choice is the best thing you can do towards that goal. Only you know what you like, I’m simply going to be giving context for each ability, so that you can be informed while building your character.

Part 1: Overview, Attributes,  Races, & Class Abilities
Part 2: Implement Schools
Part 3: Feats, Traits, and Equipment
Part 4: Archetypes & Builds