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Pathfinder - Magus Handbook

Disclaimer

I will use content from the core rules, but will intentionally omit any content not published on the official Pathfinder SRD due to the unmanageable volume of non-SRD content, and the wildly varying quality of non-SRD content. If you would like me to write handbooks for specific content not published on the official SRD, please email me and I will consider it on a case-by-case basis. 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.

Temporary Note: Pathfinder Unchained and Occult Adventures were both recently added to the SRD. I'm excited to explore them, and I am actively working on adding their contents to my collection of handbooks. I appreciate your patience while I make these changes.

Introduction

The Magus is everything that the Eldritch Knight wants to be; a potent combination of the Wizard's offensive magic and the Fighter's martial prowess. In combat, the Magus is defined by Spellstrike, which allows the Magus to deliver spells through a weapon attack. The Magus can serve the party as a Striker and Librarian, but has the spells to serve as a Support should the need arise.

Magus Class Features

Hit Points: d8 hit points is hard for a strictly melee class, so be sure to keep your AC high.

Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB is acceptable, and if you keep your weapon well enhanced and your Dexterity high, it will be plenty.

Saves: Strong Fortitude and Will saves are great, and your high Dexterity will compensate for the low Reflex save.

Proficiencies: All of the weapon and armor proficiencies that you will need. The late introduction of medium and heavy armor proficiency are annoying because they introdcue components to the build much later than you need them in order to take advantage of them.

Skills: 2+ skill ranks isn't much, but your high Intelligence will let you get whatever skills you need. Don't forget that increasing your intelligence retroactively awards you skill ranks, and Headband of Vast Intelligence grants you one rank per character level in one skill for every 2 points of enhancement bonus. What? Didn't know that? Yeah, no one beleives me when I tell them that, but it's right there in the core rules.

Spells: The Magus gets 2/3 casting, similar to a Bard, but is much more dependant on spells. Spell Combat and Spellstrike are the Magus' two most iconic combat options, and the effectiveness of those abilities is entirely defined by the Magus' choice of spells.

Spellbooks: Spellbooks are what make the Magus and Wizard so much more versatile than the Bard and Sorceror. You can completely change your list of tricks every day to fit whatever you need, and much like a Wizard you can have a functionally infinite number of spells known.

Arcane Pool (Su): Arcane pool fuels a lot of really cool abilities for the Magus, especially his ability to enhance his weapon. If you really like enhancing your weapon this way, be sure to pick up the Enduring Blade Magus Arcana to help stretch your Arcane Pool points. Avoid using Arcane Pool to get the Keen property: you should have a +1 keen rapier without Arcane Pool, and supplement it with Arcane Pool.

Cantrips: The Magus doesn't get a lot of cantrips, but that doesn't make them any less awesome. Be sure to bring Disrupt Undead when you get Spellstrike because you can channel Disrupt Undead into a Spellstrike for a free attack even if you aren't actually attacking an undead.

Spell Combat (Ex): This is the reason the Magus uses a Rapier instead of using an Elven Curve Blade. Being able to cast a spell and use a weapon at the same time gives you a lot of potential for damage output. You can also take a penalty to your attacks to get a bonus to Concentration, which is nice at low levels when your Concentration checks haven't begun to outpace your spell levels.

Spellstrike (Su): This is why you want to use a rapier. I can't think of another way to get a 15-20 critical threat range on a spell, and the idea of doing 20d6 damage with an Intensified Shocking Grasp is very enticing. You want to make sure that you're going to hit with this attack, so don't let your attack bonus fall behind. If you're having too much trouble hitting, switch to using regular Spell Combat so that you can use your spells as touch attacks.

Magus Arcana: The Magus' pseudo-feat. Similar to Rogue Talents and any number of similar abilities, Magus Arcana are a great way to customize your Magus, and many options are better than many feats. For help selecting your Magus Arcana, see my Magus Arcana Breakdown.

Spell Recall (Su): This will eat your Arcane Pool very quickly, so don't plan to use this on a regular basis.

Bonus Feats: This really helps with our early feat dependency, especially if you're not a human. Combat Feats and Metamagic Feats make up most of your important feats, and 5th level is right when you want to get Intensify Spell and use it on Shocking Grasp to keep the damage relevant for another 5 levels.

Knowledge Pool (Su): You can go out and buy scrolls to learn knew spells. Unless you're somewhere that you can't do that, this really isn't useful. If you can't find a scroll or spellbook that contains spells you want, you can use this to bypass the requirement for source material.

Medium Armor (Ex): Medium Armor is a small improvement to your AC. See the Armor section below for helping selecting your armor.

Improved Spell Combat (Ex): By now your Concentration checks should be decent. Your highest DC is 18 (15+3), and with at least 16 intelligence you have a better than even chance. If you haven't found other ways to improve your Concentration checks (Spellguard Braces are a fantastic choice), taking a -1 penalty to your attacks for a +3 to your Concentration check is a pretty fantastic trade.

Fighter Training (Ex): There aren't a lot of Fighter feats that you really want at this point.

Improved Spell Recall (Su): This hugely improves your versatility because you can call up all of those weird obscure spells that you learned thinking you might use them once or twice in your life. You can also recharge an Intensified Shocking Grasp for a single Arcane Pool point.

Heavy Armor (Ex): Unless your Dexterity bonus is +10 or greater, Heavy Armor is your best option, and upgrading to Mithral Tatami-Do will get you a nice +2 AC boost.

Greater Spell Combat (Ex): The offer is certainly tempting, but by now your Concentration check is 14+intelligence. Assuming a very modest 18 intelligence, you can roll a 1, score a 19, and cast a 4th level spell guranteed. At level 15 you are guranteed to succeed when casting 5th level spells, and at level 16 you are guranteed to succeed with 6th level spells. This ability is completely unnecessary unless you are fighting someone with the Disruptive feat.

Counterstrike (Ex): The free attack is nice, but not being able to disrupt the spell really handicaps this ability. If you don't have Step Up, you probably will never get to use this.

Greater Spell Access (Su): The Wizard has a much better spell list than the Magus, and access to a whole bunch of those spells gives you a ton of great options.

True Magus (Su): The ability to forego casting defensively is a token gesture because at this point you could automatically cast any of your spells defensively with an Intelligence score of 10. The flexible bonus is nice, though.

Abilities

The Magus has some problems with MAD, especially if you want a lot of Strength for damage, but it's manageable if you understand that you really don't need a ton of Strength.

Str: Because the Magus starts with only light armor proficiency, you need to invest in Dexterity. If you're going to invest in Dexterity, you should use weapon Finesse. If you're using Weapon Finesse, you don't need Strength. You might take a bit of strength for damage and to open up Power Attack, but it's not strictly necessary because your damage primarily comes from your spells.

Dex: Your primary combat stat. Because the Magus starts with only light armor, Dexterity is crucial, and the Magus' only bad save is Reflex.

Con: As a front-line character, the Magus needs all of the hit points it can get.

Int: Your spellcasting ability, and it fuels your skill ranks and knowledge skills. While you don't need it as much as a Wizard because you only get 6 levels of spells, it's helpful for bonus spells, especially at low levels.

Wis: Helpful for Will saves, but Will is one of the Magus' good saves, so don't invest too heavily..

Cha: Useless for a Magus. It only affects your Use Magtic Device skill, and if you want to use UMD, take the Pragmatic Activator trait. Dump to 7.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 18
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 16
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 16
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 16
  • Wis: 13
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 16
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 16
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 10
  • Dex: 15
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 14
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 8

Races

Bonuses to Dexterity or Intelligence are great. Small size doesn't matter because the Magus doesn't need Strength or a big weapon, and being small provides a nice bonus to AC and Attack.

Dwarf: The Dwarf is great defensively, but doesn't give us any options that actually contribute to the Magus. The Dwarf favored class bonus is tempting, but the few arcana which can only be used once per day aren't very good.

Elf: A bonus to both of the Magus' most important stats, and a whole bunch of other spellcasting benefits that will really help the Magus. The penalty to Constitution hurts, but Elven Magic can take the place of Spell Penetration, so take Toughness if you need hit points. The Arcane Focus alternate racial trait is a must because the Magus already gets proficiency with everything important covered by weapon familiarity, and the favored class bonus is great if you need a few more Magus Arcana slots.

Gnome: If you want to be small, Halfling is strictly better. Gnomes don't really get anything useful to the Magus.

Half-Elf: The flexible ability bonus is all that we really get from the default Half-Elf. You can get some more by taking alternate racial traits like Ancestral Arms and Dual-Minded, and the favored class bonus boosts the Magus's Arcane Pool a little bit, or you can take the Elf favored class bonus for extra Magus Arcana.

Half-Orc: The flexible ability bonus is nice, and Darkvision is always great, but that's really all that we get. The favored class bonus won't be reliable because the Magus depends so heavily on Shocking Grasp for damage, so take the Human favored class bonus to boost your Arcane Pool.

Halfling: Small size gives you bonus AC and attack, and Halflings get a bonus to Dexterity and their penalty is to Strength, which is useless. The favored class bonus gives extra Magus Arcana, which is great. If you want to play a small or sneaky Magus, Halflings are great choice.

Human: The ability bonus can go into either Dexterity or Intelligence, and the bonus feat is always excellent. The favored class bonus boosts the Magus's Arcane Pool a little bit, so you can rely on your Arcana a bit more.

Traits

Skills

Feats

Metamagic Feats

Weapons

Armor

Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.

Cross-Classing and Prestige Classes

The Magus really gets everything that it needs to be functional, and it's very dependent on class level both for spells and for Arcane Pool. If you take 6 levels and get the Broad Study Magus Arcana, you might be able to do something crazy with another class, but it will take a long time to come anywhere near the power level of a straight Magus or really any other single-class character. 6 levels is not a class dip.

Example Build - Generic Rapier Magus

Shocking Grasp all the things!

This is, conceptually, a very simply build. It takes all of the essential Magus options, and should be reasonably effective at every level.

Abilities

We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.

Race

Elves provide a lot of fantastic bonuses for the Magus. Humans would work very well here too, and their free bonus feat is certainly welcome. Being an Elf gives us a +2 to Dexterity and Intelligence, but a -2 penalty to Constitution. Because the increased intelligence gets us extra skill ranks, we can afford to spend our favored class bonus on additional hit points to compensate for our low Constitution. Unfortunately, Elf doesn't get a bonus feat, so we can't get Slashing Grace until evel 5.

Skills

With 18 starting intelligence, we have 6 skill ranks per level, which is more than enough. As we increase out intelligence with our headband, pick up Knowledge (Nature), Knowledge (Local), and one other skill that makes sense for the campaign.

Traits

Forlorn, combined with spending our favored class bonus on hit points, completely negates the racial penalty to Constitution. Magical Lineage (Shocking Grasp) allows us to do some very interesting and powerful things with Shocking Grasp.