Pathfinder - The Hunter Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
I support a limited subset of Pathfinder's rules content. If you would like help with Pathfinder player options not covered here, please email me and I am happy to provide additional assistance.
I will use the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks. Also note that many colored items are also links to the Paizo SRD.
- Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances
- Green: Good options.
- Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
The hunter doubles down on the Animal Companion mechanic, giving up a lot of the druid's spellcasting for improved abilities related to their animal companion.
Hunter Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points isn't great, but the Hunter's Animal Companion should be durable enough to protect the Hunter.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/d BAB.
Saves: The Hunter has good Fortitude and Reflex saves, and due to the Hunter's dependence on Wisdom for spells also has decent Will saves.
Proficiencies: Simple and martial weapons, medium armor, and shields. This offers plenty of options for a variety of builds.
Skills: 6+ skills and some excellent skill options.
Spells: Hunters are divine spontaneous spellcasters, and get access to both the Ranger spell list and the Druid spell list. Ranger spells, especially 4th-level Ranger spells, are absolutely fantastic, and the Hunter gets them earlier and in greater quantity than anyone else in the game. The Hunter's spells are dependent on Wisdom.
Orisons: Fantastic and versatile.
Animal Companion (Ex): The Hunter gets the best version of Animal Companion in the game. On top of the Druid's version (the previous gold standard), the Hunter can teach their companion tricks from the Skirmisher Ranger's list of "Hunter's Tricks". Some of these tricks don't quite make sense for an Animal Companion, but a few of them are very helpful. In addition, if the Hunter loses of foregos their animal companion, Summon Nature's Ally spells extend their duration from rounds to minutes per level.
Animal Focus (Su): This is a fantastic way to quickly buff yourself and your Animal Companion, and the bonuses can be used to address a variety of challenges. Remember that the bonus to your companion doesn't consume your minutes per day duration, so you can leave it in place permanently.
- Bat: Not always important, but fantastic to have available when you do need it. At high levels the blindsense is great for detecting invisible foes.
- Bear: Temporary bonuses to Constitution are difficult to justify because they can kill you when they expire.
- Bull: This can largely replace your belt's bonus to Strength.
- Falcon: Situational.
- Frog: Very situational.
- Monkey: Very situational.
- Mouse: Evasion is fantastic on any character.
- Owl: Situational.
- Snake: Situational, but this can be fantastic if you or your companion are built as a Defender.
- Stag: The bonus is tiny.
- Tiger: This can largely replace your belt's bonus to Dexterity.
- Wolf: Situational, and the range is garbage.
Nature Training (Ex): There are very few feats where Druid or Ranger levels matter.
Wild Empathy (Ex): Very situational.
Precise Companion (Ex): If you plan to be an archer, you need Precise Shot. If you plan for your Hunter to be in melee, Outflank can be a great way to team up with your Animal Companion, especially because your companion gets Outflank for free. If you plan to ride your companion but use melee weapons, consider the Pack Flanking feat; once you get Hunter Tactics, it will be granted to your Animal Companion for free.
Track (Ex): Very situational.
Hunter Tactics (Ex): Teamwork Feats are very powerful, but requiring multiple characters to select them can often be problematic. Granting the Hunter a guaranteed ally for teamwork makes them much more viable. This also allows the Animal Companion to get very difficult teamwork feats without meeting prerequisites which are already difficult for a player character.
Teamwork Feat: Free Teamwork Feats, and the Hunter can change their most recent choice as a standard action any number of times. Remember that with Hunter Tactics the Hunter's feat choice is automatically shared with their Animal Companion, which makes this even better.
Improved Empathic Link (Su): Once your familiar becomes intelligent, you can give them complex instructions to scout for you. Allowing the Hunter to see through their companion's eyes allows the hunter to see things first-hand without putting themselves in danger.
Woodland Stride (Ex): Very Situational
Bonus Tricks (Ex): Most characters probably can't make use of a lot of extra tricks, but remember that Hunters can teach their companion Hunter's Tricks from the Skirmisher Ranger ability.
Second Animal Focus (Su): In addition to the scaling bonuses from Animal Focus, 8th level allows the Hunter to gain two bonuses (three if the Hunter's companion is dead), and grant two to their Animal Companion.
Swift Tracker (Ex): Very situational.
Raise Animal Companion (Sp): A "permanent" negative level to raise the Hunter's Animal Companion is a cheap price to pay considering that the negative level goes away after 24 hours. Because this is a spell-like ability it takes a Standard Action to use, and has no material component. Raise your companion in combat if you need to.
Speak with Master (Ex): This makes it considerably easier to share information and instructions with your companion.
Greater Empathic Link (Su): Even better than speaking, now you can exchange information and commands silently. Combined with the ability to see through the companion's eyes, the Hunter can now essentially remote-control their Animal Companion.
One with the Wild (Ex): Situational.
Master Hunter (Ex): The tracking bit is worthless, but adding a third animal focus which lasts all day is absolutely fantastic.
Wisdom is the Hunter's spellcasting ability, but other abilities are largely dependent on your build. Since they roll in medium armor and have a big durable pet to stand behind, I recommend opting for archery over melee weapons.
Str: If you plan to use melee weapons, Strength is essential. If you plan to use a bow, pick up a bit for damage, but I wouldn't go with more than 14 at level 1.
Dex: In only medium armor, a bit of Dexterity will be a good supplement to the Hunter's AC, and it's obviously crucial if you plant to use a bow.
Con: Hit points and Fortitude saves.
Int: Only needed for skill ranks.
Wis: The Hunter's spellcasting ability, and compensates for the Hunter's "bad" will save. However, the Hunter is only a 2/3 caster, so don't think that you need to compete with a Cleric or a Druid.
Cha: Only useful for Handle Animal and Wild Empathy, and you can improve your modifier easily enough that dumping Charisma won't hurt much.
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Your choice of race depends heavily on your build. Hunters aren't terribly feat-starved so Humans don't absolutely beat out all other options, and because the Hunter isn't a full caster it's not particularly important to get a Wisdom bonus.
Dwarf: Bonuses to two important abilities and a penalty to the Hunter's biggest dump stat. On top of that, the Dwarf provides a pile of great defensive bonuses. Unfortunately, the Dwarf favored class bonus is garbade.
Elf: Nothing really helpful for the Hunter, and the favored class bonus is garbage.
Gnome: The bonus to Charisma is totally wasted, but a bonus to Constitution is nice, and the Gnome favored class bonus is fantastic.
Half-Elf: With some alternate racial features the Half-Elf is a decent choice, but it doesn't offer anything specifically good for the Hunter. The Half-Elf favored class bonus is garbage, and the Elf and Human favored class bonuses don't help either.
Half-Orc: The Half-Orc offers a flexible ability bonus and Darkvision. The Half-Orc favored class bonus adds HP to your Animal Companion, which is great if you plan to let your companion tank for you.
Halfling: The Charisma bonus is wasted, but the bonus to Dexterity can be nice for an archer Hunter, and the Halflings other racial bonuses make for a good sneaky hunter. The Halfling favored class bonus gives your Animal Companion a very rare luck bonus to saves.
Human: Always good at everything, Humans have a lot to offer. The Human favored class bonus is unfortunately disappointing.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Required to train your Animal Companion, and if your GM is handling your compaion RAW essential to keep your Animal Companion under control in combat.
- Heal (Wis): The Hunter needs Wisdom for spells, which makes the Hunter a good option for your party's Heal user. With some cheap items and a few skill ranks, Heal is a fantastic supplement to the party's magical healing capacity.
- Intimidate (Cha): The Hunter is not a Face.
- Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Knowledge (geography) (Int): Situational.
- Knowledge (nature) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills.
- Perception (Wis): One of the most rolled skills in the game.
- Ride (Dex): Even if you plan to ride your Animal Companion, you only need a few ranks unless you intend to depend on Mounted Combat.
- Spellcraft (Int): Hunters don't need a lot of Intelligence, so Spellcraft is a hard skill for Hunters.
- Stealth (Dex): Essential if you plan to
- Survival (Wis): Situational,
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
This section does not cover feats related to Animal Companions. For help with those feats, see my Practical Guide to Animal Companions.
- Extended Animal Focus: More animal focus is always great, but at high levels this will stop being useful.
- Lay of the Land: Absolutely never. If you meet the guy who wrote this feat go punch him in the mouth for me. I hate favored terrain and everything about it.
- Celestial Armor (22,400 gp): Unless you have heavy armor proficiency and a Dexterity modifier of at most +5, Celestial Armor is the best armor in the game if all you need from your armor is AC. For more, check out my Practical Guide to Celestial Armor.
- Clawhand Shield (8,158 gp): This is a weird item. It's a bit more expensive than your typical +2 shield, so it may not be worth the cost compared to a mithral buckler. However, it allows you to perform somatic components with the hand holding the shield, which means that you can hold a weapon in your other hand without issue, and because it has no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure anyone can use it without issue3. The ability to automatically damage enemies while in a grapple is a helpful deterrent for small or physical weak characters, but ion't go looking for excuses to use it.
It's difficult to recommend specific staffs without knowing your individual character, so instead I want to make a general endorsement of the concept of magic staffs in Pathfinder. If you are a 3.5 native, go read Pathfinder's rules for staffs because they have improved dramatically.
Staffs are a reliable, rechargeable source of extra spellcasting that can give spellcasters easy and reliable access to spells from their spell list which they might not want to learn, or which they might like to use so frequently that they can't prepare the spell enough times in a given day. On days when you're not adventuring (traveling, resting, etc.) you can easily recharge any staff even if you can only cast one of the spells which the staff contains.
Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
The Hunter gets a lot of very good abilities, including improvements to their Animal Companion, so multiclassing generally isn't recommended.