Pathfinder Character Designs 2: Warrior-Mages
This is part 2 of my billion-and-a-half part series of writing about random character builds. I started this with a post about the Rogue and their archetypes. Today, I’m going to go over some things I’ve learned about making and playing warrior-mage type characters. I’ll go over single class variations, multiclass variations, then the “gish-in-a-box” characters introduced by Paizo for Pathfinder, and finally I’ll round out the post with some spells..
The Pathfinder Core has one class that I’d consider “out-of-the-box” warrior-mage capable, and that’s the Bard. They get arcane casting, can wield a pretty nice assortment of melee weapons and some armor, they can self-buff their attacks and defenses, and self heal as needed. In fact, in the Advanced Player’s Guide and Ultimate Combat, the Bard gets archetypes that make them very combat-oriented with their arcane magics added on top (for reference these are the Arcane Duelist in APG and the Dervish Dancer in UC).
Additionally, and a little surprisingly, if you stat a Sorcerer or Wizard and use the proper Bloodling/School, you can get a little be of melee out of these two. For the Sorcerer, there are the Aberrant (10-20 foot Touch Spells), Abyssal/Orc (+2-6 Strength), and Pit-Touched Infernal (+2-6 Constitution) Bloodlines, for example. For the Wizard, there’s the Transmutation School, which gives a +1-5 enhancement bonus to a physical stat, changeable at the beginning of the day. So, as mentioned, a Warrior-Mage with these two is a little work, but still possible. It may not be the best, but it gets the job done.
For history’s sake and for a little bit of fun, here are two warrior-mage builds I lifted from a really old 4chan /tg/ post with a thread about this subject. In 3.5, these were two of the main warrior-mage builds. The first is a standard arcane caster + fighting, which results in crazy casting and the ability to whack-things-with-stuff, and the second (“Sorcadin”) is a more complicated but still good mix of smiting and arcane casting. Both take advantage of the Abjurant Champion and his various “sacrifice spells to buff self” abilities.
Fighter 1 / Wizard 6 / Spellsword 1 / Abjurant Champion 5 / Eldritch Knight 7
Paladin 2 / Sorcerer 4 / Spellsword 1 / Abjurant Champion 5 / Sacred Exorcist 8
Now, in Pathfinder, you obviously can’t really take the Abjurant Champion and Sacred Exorcist unless you’ve got a really open GM. So, you can’t exactly make the same thing, but you can get close.
Fighter 1 / Sorcerer or Wizard 9 / Eldritch Knight 10
If I do the math right in my head, the Sorcerer variant has +15/+10/+5 BAB and casts like an 18th Level Sorcerer. His main drawback is that he loses out on most of the really powerful Sorcerer Bloodline abilities. This is somewhat lessened by the Wondrous Item in the Advanced Player’s Guide called the “Robe of Arcane Heritage”. With the Abyssal/Orc Bloodline, you’ll get a +4 to Strength and the Pit-Touched Infernal gets a +4 to Constitution. Additionally, if you go Draconic, you can also jump to Dragon Disciple, which has some nice melee-mage potential.
The Wizard is more flexible, you can drop a level of Wizard for Fighter and not lose a lot of spell casting to get +16/+11/+6/+1 BAB, otherwise you’ll have mid-BAB. You get another bonus combat feat out of that switch as well. You end up casting as a 17th or 18th level Wizard. The Transmutation school (with the option of the Enhancement Sub-School) grants this Wizard a lot of self buffs, so he can keep up his stats during the day. If you go with Illusion you can use an at-will Greater Invisibility and Conjuration has several teleportation options.
As for the Sorcadin, I don’t know that you can build one in Pathfinder easily. Trading the level of Fighter for a level of Paladin would be an option though. Same for the Wizard. You get a Smite Evil out of the deal instead of bonus feats along with all those proficiencies.
There are a few other Pathfinder classes who qualify as warrior-mages straight away. There’s the Bard listed above, but the Advanced Player’s Guide introduces the Alchemist and Ultimate Magic introduces the Magus.
Alchemists have a limited kind of spell casting, they drink their Extracts, which “casts” the spell. The advantage is that they can do this in any armor without worrying about spell failure. Any Extract is like this, including those Ultimate Magic grants through Archetypes (Summon Nature’s Ally from a character in Full Plate is kinda scary). Alchemists can either dip into a full martial class (Fighter, Paladin, Barbarian, Paladin, etc.) for a slew of armors and weapons, along with other small bonuses that make the job easier, or take a few feats to get the proficiencies, which is fine for Alchemists because they aren’t that feat starved. Also, since the Extracts don’t actually require DCs most of the time, you only need about 18 Intelligence (more through leveling if need be) to operate them. Bombs are a nice addition to being able to fighting in melee, but there’s also the Vivsectionist who can do sneak attacking instead of bombs. Another advantage for the Alchemist is that they’re skill monkeys with everything else, so they have versatility in and out of combat.
Billed as an out-of-the-box warrior-mage and does the job great. He’s got the weapons, spells, and self-buffing to be a terror all over the battlefield. He can also get a nice defense going, either with high Dexterity (in a Dervish Dance build that uses Dex for melee damage) or eventually getting heavy armor for a Strength Magus. He’s also exceedingly multiclass friendly, capable of dipping into one or even two classes for their various abilities. This is because, quite frankly, everything the Magus gets after 7th-ish Level is ho-hum.
With both of these classes, very little necessary is tied to character level, so the multiclassing they may do won’t really hurt their progression that badly. The Alchemist loses his Grand Discovery which are all nice, but not “oh god the awesome!!11” and the Magus’s late game stuff isn’t all to game breaking either.
Gish-in-a-Box Multiclassing Options
From Walter’s Guide to the Magus (here: https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1DB6sOfbAzFmKVPgcyLWipTVqvWFjfDSv6v_YiGQb5Yw&pli=1 ), there’s a dip option for picking up, of all things, a level of Sorcerer. By taking the Crossblooded Archetype to gain the Orc and Draconic Bloodlines (Blue or Bronze) and you deal 2 additional points of damage per dice of your bread ‘n’ butter spell, Shocking Grasp. So, at 5th level, Shocking Grasp is a 5d6 + 10, at 10th level with Intensify Spell, it’s 10d6 + 20 damage. 10/20 damage in exchange for -2 Will and 1 BAB (which can be made up for with a couple levels of Fighter or something), a definitely nice trade. This also nets you access to Dragon Disciple, which has some nice buffs for a warrior-mage.
Additionally, a Magus jumping to Alchemist gains the ability to self heal and Mutagens for physical boosting. A Magus/Paladin can be quite frightening here as well, as seen here: http://paizo.com/paizo/messageboards/paizoPublishing/pathfinder/pathfinderRPG/advice/featSuggestionsForPaladinMagus&page=1#19
I have a list of the things a Magus can jump to:
-Alchemist for Mutagens and self heals.
-Barbarian for the Raging and Rage Powers.
-Bards for self buffing and self healing.
-Cleric for making a Red Mage with Mystic Theurge (Magus 7/Cleric 3/Mystic Theurge 10)
-Druid for a similar combo with Mystic Theurge
-Fighter for the feats.
-Inquisitor for Judgments, utility, and self heals.
-Monk for the Unarmed Spellstrike concept.
-Paladin for Smiting and self heals.
-Sorcerer for the above Bloodlines.
Spell and Tricks
This section is the last and will cover tricks, feats, items, and spells helpful for being a warrior-mage.
Spells (Specific Defensive Buffs)
-Mage Armor: A basic spell for Sorcerers/Wizards which can be used by almost everything here, if needed. Alternatively, the character can just get some Bracers of Armor.
-Mirror Image: Insanely great buff. You are incredibly hard to hit, which will happen if you’re in the frontlines.
-Fire Shield/Vitriolic Mist: These two spells punish creatures for attacking you. You can stack them, or go with one at a time. They’re kinda short term for the damage returns, but they could deter something from attacking you.
-Shield/Shock Shield: Again, two shields that give you a short term AC buff. Alternatively, you can pick up a Mithril Buckler, which doesn’t require proficiency to use and eventually results in a better bonus that’s on all the time.
-Stoneskin: Has a Material Component cost, but it’s free DR, which is awesome.
-Adjuring Step: While in melee, you can cast some spells without provoking. You can’t attack or run away, but you can still get some stuff off.
-Illusion of Calm: Adjuring Step’s bigger brother (though same level), this lets you cast in combat and move without provoking so long as you’re not attacked.
-Bull’s Strength/Cat’s Grace/Bear’s Endurance: Free attack power or temporary hit points.
-False Life/False Life, Greater: Free hit points.
-Bracers of Armor: It’s like Mage Armor but always on.
-Ring of Deflection/Amulet of Natural Armor: More AC is always better for these guys. I mention them because of Arcane Spell Failure, which these items all ignore.
-Robe of Arcane Heritage: For the Sorcerer multiclasser.
-Robe of the Archmagi: If you don’t want to eat all of your item slots on defense, you can get one of these, but it’s bonuses will be lower than piecemealing all the different items together.
-Mithril Buckler: Ah yes, this trick is so easy and so awesome. You can equip them without proficiency for a nice AC bonus.
-Haramaki and Silken Ceremonial Armor: These two armors are from Ultimate Combat and both have a +1 armor bonus with no penalties to skills or arcane casting! How awesome is that!
Arcane Strike: Because the warrior-mage is not a Fighter, he needs as many buffs as he can get. This is one of those abilities, though it does require a Swift Action to use.
Arcane Armor Training/Mastery: On paper this sounds helpful but it’s really unnecessary. There are so many ways to buff up AC, the warrior-mage will never need this.
Dervish Dance: To help bring relief to the MAD problem with this character, he can use Dexterity for weapon attacks and damage with a scimitar. It’s not necessary, but it does help.
Magical Knack: Perfect for the Fighter/Sorcerer or Wizard/EK because you’re spells are actually full power.
Magical Lineage: For the Magus, this is a terrific spell to pump up Shocking Grasp easily.
I hope everyone enjoyed this post. I’m sure I’ve missed something glaring, but it’s not a super-serious guide.
Also, the artwork is a sketch fo a piece of art for the Magus section of the Pathfinder book I’m making with my friend. And yes, when I drew the sword, I only drew half of it then copied and flipped it so the weapon would actually be symmetrical.
Pathfinder Characters Part 2-B: It’s Kensai-rrific
In keeping with the Warrior-Mage theme, I’ve decided to do a quicky run-up of a Kensai from Ultimate Combat. This doubles as a another “advicing a friend” on a character.
So, to start, I’ll go over a few things from the class that are neat features and some drawbacks compared to the vanilla Magus.
First-and-foremost are the diminished parts of the standard Magus features. He doesn’t get proficiency with any armors and only gains a single Martial or Exotic Weapon (in addition to all Simple). This may seem like a lose but it’s not much of one. Most combat characters stick with one type of weapon anyways and the Kensai gets some nice abilities to help relieve the lack of armor. The only thing with this is he has to take a Sling or Crossbow for ranged, not a big deal, but something to keep in mind. The second drawback is Diminished Spellcasting (one fewer spell per level per day). For me, this is a huge enough drawback I probably wouldn’t actually play the Archetype, but since this is partly for a friend who doesn’t care about that, I’ll still continue. Later, the Magus also loses the Spell Recalls and the armor equips. The second isn’t as big a deal as it sounds as he gets an AC boost, but the first may also be a game changer, though Pearls of Power are Core.
Now, here are the advantages. Canny Defense, adding his Intelligence modifier to his AC is a great trade for the armor he gives up. It’ll take a few levels to get the full bonus because of the way the ability works, but it’s still great. It’s stackable with Bracers of Armor or Mage Armor (gained through Spell Blending), as well as, the big AC boosting Wondrous Items.
Weapon Focus and Perfect Strike are nice additions and the former sets up the instant grabbing of Weapon Specialization at 7th level. The latter is a key feature to this class (spending 2 Arcane Pool points for increasing the critical multiplier of his weapon by x1), which I’ll detail in the weapon choices section below. Fighter Training earlier for the Kensai’s weapon o’ choice is a nice boon, especially since he can instantly get Weapon Specialization and eventually get the rest of the line and sets up for Critical Mastery.
Iaijutsu is great since anything that gets a spellcaster, even a half-caster like the Kensai, to go more-firster in the Initiative order is a definite plus. The drawing his weapon thing for AoO is more for flavor in my opinion, though it could be fun when combined with Combat Reflexes and Superior Reflexes. Critical Perfection is a nice boon for confirming crits, plus he can take those high level Critical Feats, which can make this character an absolute brutal crit farmer.
Superior Reflexes combined with Combat Reflexes gets him something like 8 AoO. It’s overkill, but it could be awesome overkill. Iaijutsu Focus makes you a little Rogue-ish, and if he’s coupled with another Ultimate Combat character that can pull out those “make opponent Flat-Footed” abilities, this becomes a great damage bonus. Plus he’ll get lots of combats where he goes before most others, since there are a ton of Initiative bonuses for him.
Iaijutsu Master brings the Kensai close to a Divination Wizard in totally screwing everything else in the Initiative order, though the Diviner can still go quicker, the Kensai could go after him and mop up the control the Wizard dishes out. Finally, Weapon Mastery give the Kensai’s crits another boost.
The Kensai is a critical hit farmer, meaning he should take as many options to land critical hits and try to maximize the number of crits he can get. So, his weapon has to be high-crit and he should keep that in mind when selecting feats and abilities. I’ll do the build to 12th level, with comments on taking it further.
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of the build, I have to mention weapon choices. The Kensai is proficient with a single Martial or Exotic Weapon and, as far as I can see, there are 3 or 4 options. Here’s the order in which I think they are, from least-best to best-best.
Bastard Sword: 1d10, 19-20/x2
Katana: 1d8, 18-20/x2, Deadly
Falcata: 1d8, 19-20/x3
Scimitar: 1d6, 18-20/x2
The Scimitar is, by-and-large, the best weapon for the Kensai (and the general Magus), because it’s got the widest crit range (and normally doesn’t require a feat to wield one-handed). Additionally, it gets Dervish Dance, which for the Kensai meshes with his defenses, especially early on when Bracers of Armor or Mage Armor aren’t available.
The Falcata is tempting because it’s got a meaty x3, but I think it’s a bit of a trap, because he ultimately gives up 2 on the range of his critical threat. As a Magus, who uses the critical range more than the multiplier to get a higher number of crits, he needs the largest threat range. I’ll still make a Sterngth Kensai below who uses a Falcata.
The Katana has the threat range, but can’t use Dervish Dance. I personally think it’s a poor choice compared to the Scimitar. The Bastard Sword bears mentioning because it’s got a mighty 1d10 with a one-handed weapon right out of the gate. This could be good when coupled with Perfect Strike and maxing out the rolls to 10.
And, while I’m talking about weapons, I’ll note the Black Blade. Because of Perfect Strike’s 2 point cost to use when critting, I think that the Black Blade is not a great option. He gets a nice weapon out of the deal, but he loses Arcane Pool points, which are really needed here. He could take Extra Arcane Pool a couple times, but that costs feats.
Meat ‘n’ Potatoes
Elf. Pretty much the best combination. Humans work too, but I’m going to go with Elf for the primary build. The +2 Dex/Int and the +2 vs. SR is just too good for a Kensai to pass up. However, I will do a Strength-based comparison, in case someone wants a not-Scimitar and/or can’t stand being an elf.
Ability Scores (25-Point Buy because we have a 25-point campaign going right now)
Str:10 (0), Dex:18 (+4), Con:12 (+1), Int:18 (+4), Wis:12 (+1), Cha:8 (-1)
Elf Bonuses Applied
Str:18 (+4), Dex: 14 (+2), Con: 13 (+1), Int:17 (+3), Wis:8 (-1), Cha: 7 (-2)
Human Bonus Added to Strength
The Dexterity path has a much easier job than the Strength path and as he levels he only needs place points in Dexterity. The Strength one could put points in Constitution and Intelligence along with Strength, though it’s not necessary. Additionally, the Dexterity version has a better defense, getting a +8 total instead of a +5. The disadvantage the Dexterity build has is that it has to spend two feats at the beginning. Additionally, levels 1-3 are going to be low damage for him. The Strength Kensai does better damage early, but has weaker defenses.
Since, I’m not doing a full 20th-level build, I’ll point out feat progressions for both sides of the character.
1: Weapon Finesse: Requirement for Dervish Dance.
3: Dervish Dance: Use Dex instead of Str for Scimitars.
5: Improved Initiative: Make the Kensai much more first.
5, Bonus: Lunge: Give his attacks reach, making him a greater threat.
7: Weapon Specialization: Boost his attack power.
9: Improved Critical: Kind of important, I mean, if he wants to be an effective crit farmer.
11: Intensify Spell: Used to bring Shocking Grasp into High Rank
11, Bonus: Greater Weapon Focus
1: Improved Intiative
1, Human Bonus: Toughness: Bonus Hit Points are always nice.
5: Combat Reflexes
5, Bonus: Power Attack: More damage and the Strength Kensai does qualify.
7: Weapon Specialization
9: Improved Critical
11: Intensify Spell
11, Bonus: Greater Weapon Focus
Future feats include two Critical Feats and Critical Mastery, Spell Penetration and Greater Spell Penetration, a new line of feats from Ultimate Combat based on Dimension Door, Greater Weapon Specialization, and Extra Arcane or Extra Arcane Pool. The Dexterity Kensai has a slight disadvantage with having to take Dervish Dance, but he has the advantage of not being as MAD. Additionally, the Dexterity Kensai would probably save Combat Reflexes for 13th level.
3: Arcane Accuracy
6: Prescient Attack (Ultimate Combat)
Or, Enduring Blade (Ultimate Combat)
Or, Spell Blending: To gain Mage Armor and Touch of Fatigue
12: Accurate Strike (Ultimate Combat)
Or, Maximized Magic
Every Arcana I chose is a means to improve hitting a target. Arcane Accuracy and Prescient Attack provide stacking benefits, though he could trade Prescient Attack for Enduring Blade (spend another point to extend the Arcane Pool Enhancing for 1 minute/level), or Spell Blending to gain Mage Armor and Touch of Fatique from the Wizard’s spell list. Mage Armor would help with your defenses and Touch of Fatique is can act as an at-will Spellstrike and hence at-will Spell Combat (unless of course, you’re allowed to use Arcane Mark with both, some GMs ban that though).
Accurate Strike is another way to land hits, targeting Touch instead of normal AC, which is great for easily hitting things. Maximized Magic is necessary for the big one-per-day burst of damage, however, the Kensai could get a Maximize Metamagic Rod instead. Rod Wielder from Ultimate Combat would be helpful for that then.
Close Range could be good too, if he takes Rime Spell and Magical Lineage (Ray of Frost), he gains an at-will entangling Spellstrike, though this may or may not be optimal in the long run it’s a nice trick.
Per Day: 0-Level: 4, 1st: 9, 2nd: 5, 3rd: 4, 4th: 3
0-Level: Acid Splash, Arcane Mark, Dancing Lights, Daze, Detect Magic, Disrupt Undead, Flare, Ghost Sound, Light, Mage Hand, Open/Close, Prestidigitation, Ray of Frost, Read Magic, Spark
1st-Level: Adjuring Step, Chill Touch, Color Spray, Floating Disk, Frostbite, Grease, Illusion of Calm, Mirror Strike, Obscuring Mist, Shield, Shocking Grasp, True Strike, Vanish
2nd-Level: Frigid Touch, Glitterdust, Invisibility, Mirror Image, Twisted Space, Web
3rd-Level: Force Hook Charge, Fly, Haste, Locate Weakness, Sleet Storm, Stinking Cloud, Vampiric Touch
4th-Level: Arcana Theft, Black Tentacles, Dimension Door, Invisibility (Greater), Stoneskin
I should note, the number of spells known is based on how the character levels, I didn’t take into account research and “research” for gaining more spells in the ol’ Spellbook. A Strength Kensai would definitely want to consider Enlarge Person and the Dexterity Magus would want to consider Reduce Person and both should consider the Monsterous Physiques. The list includes spells from all the main books.
+3 Sword, +3 Ring of Protection, Ring of Wizardry, +3 Amulet of Natural Armor, +4 Cloak of Resistance, +4 Bracers of Armor
There are other things he’d need, these are just some basics. Pearls of Power, Mantle of Spell Resistance, other miscellaneous odds-and-ends are all handy. I also haven’t picked up the belts, headbands, or books that increase Ability Scores. Everything below is pure natural power on his part.
Here are the stats for the 12th level Kensai. Dexerity Kensai puts three points in Dex, Strength Kensai puts a point in Intelligence, Constitution, and Strength.
HP: 80, Initiative: 13
AC: 29 = 10 + 4 Armor + 5 Dexterity + 4 Intelligence + 3 Deflection + 3 Natural Armor
Touch: 22, Flat-Footed: 20
Fort: 13 = 8 + 1 + 4, Reflex: 13 = 4 + 5 + 4, Will: 13 = 8 + 1 + 4
BAB: +9/+4, CMB: 9, CMD: 24
Skills: I’m just skipping these this time, but this character gets 6 per level.
HP: 104, Initiative: 10
AC: 26 = 10 + 4 Armor + 2 Dexterity + 4 Intelligence + 3 Deflection + 3 Natural Armor
Touch: 19, Flat-Footed: 20
Fort: 14 = 8 + 2 + 4, Reflex: 10 = 4 + 2 + 4, Will: 11 = 8 - 1 + 4
BAB: +9/+4, CMB: 13, CMD: 25
Skills: I’m just skipping these this time, but this character gets 5 per level until 8, then 6 per level.
Here it’s visible that the Dexterity Kensai has slightly better stats but much less HP. Now I’ll have them do some practice swings and we’ll see who does better.
Dervish Dance Attack
Attack 1: +15 (1d6 + 7)
Attack 2: +10 (1d6 + 7)
Spellstrike: +15 (11d6 + 7) (Intensified Shocking Grasp)
With these swings he can deal the following damages:
-13d6 + 21 damage, or 65-ish damage. The Perfect Strike can Maximize the normal damage and the Maximize Arcana can max out the Spellstrike as well. That’s:
Since the Spellstrike is what counts, here are its critical hits.
-Normal Crit: 102-ish, Maximized Crit: 146
-Perfect Strike Crit: 121-ish, Maximized Perfect Strike: 217
Strength Falcata Attack
Attack 1: +13 (1d8 + 5)
Attack 2: +8 (1d8 + 5)
Spellstrike: +13 (1d8 + 10d6 + 5) (Intensified Shocking Grasp)
With these swings he can deal the following damages:
-3d8 + 10d6 + 9 damage, or 54-ish damage. The Perfect Strike can Maximize the normal damage and the Maximize Arcana can max out the Spellstrike as well. That’s:
Since the Spellstrike is what counts, here are its critical hits.
-Normal: 123, Maximized Crit: 205
-Perfect Strike Crit: 176, Maximized Perfect Strike: 276
I hope my math is correct. Anyways, barring that, the Dervish Dance Kensai can deal more consistent damage, but the Falcata Kensai has a higher burst damage. Additionally, the Strength Kensai can Power Attack, which I didn’t take into account. It’d be another +4 per hit or +8 on crit. I still think that the Dexterity Kensai is better because he can pull more crits, having a 15-20 threat range, while the Strength Kensai has a 17-20. The Dexterity Kensai can dish out more crits over time, and thus more damage.
I think that about covers this character. He’s a fun Archetype, though he may lack some features a normal Magus has. He has devastating burst damage, though his staying power is not as much as other normal Magi.