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.
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.
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.
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!