Pathfinder - Magus Handbook
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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|
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.
- Anatomist (Combat): You probably don't have enough extra feats to spare for Critical focus, so a small bonus to confirm critical hits could be nice when you start swinging that Keen Rapier.
- Deft Dodger (Combat): A bonus to your bad save, but your Dexterity should be high enough that this isn't necessary.
- Fencer (Combat): A Magus is not a Defender.
- Nature's Mimic (Combat): With good Intelligence, the Magus can make an excellent Librarian, so more knowledge skills are great.
- Reactionary (Combat): Going first really isn't very important to the Magus.
- Reckless (Combat): With light armor, sometimes it's nice to be able to get around without drawing attacks.
- Resilient (Combat): Bonus to one of your good saves, but more never hurts.
- Child of the Temple (Faith): With good Intelligence, the Magus can make an excellent Librarian, so more knowledge skills are great.
- Devotee of the Green (Faith): With good Intelligence, the Magus can make an excellent Librarian, so more knowledge skills are great.
- Indomitable Faith (Faith): Bonus to one of your good saves, but more never hurts.
- Arcane Revitalization (Magic): One extra Arcane Pool point per day is half of Extra Arcane Pool, which is pretty great. Of course you need to confirm a critical hit, so either hit something with a rapier or take a Coup De Grace and remind your GM that a Coup De Grace is an automatic critical hit.
- Arcane Temper (Magic): The Magus really doesn't have a lot of trouble with Concentraiton checks, and going first isn't all that important to the Magus.
- Bladed Magic (Magic): A full extra minute on top of the duration of your Arcane Pool enhancements is great, especially at low levels when your pool is small and you haven't picked up Enduring Blade.
- Cross-Disciplined (Magic): Many of the Magus' most important spells are also Wizard spells. Shocking Grasp and Vampiric Touch are both excellent examples.
- Focused Mind (Magic): Nice at low levels before your Concentration bonus becomes reliable, but largely useless after you get Improved Spell Combat.
- Magical Lineage (Magic): There are many excellent Magic traits for the Magus, but this is far and away the best. Throw it on Shocking Grasp, and you can do some truly ridiculous things with it as a first level spell. There are a ton of fantastic magic traits for the Magus, but this is simply too good to pass up.
- Malleable Magic (Magic): You can use a Pearl of Power to recover a first level spell for 1000 gold. No such item exists to recharge your Arcane Pool.
- Pragmatic Activator (Magic): Using your Intelligence in place of your Charisma for UMD makes it considerably more reliable.
- Life of Toil (Social): Bonus to one of your good saves, but more never hurts.
- Forlorn (Elf Racial): Bonus to one of your good saves, but more never hurts.
- Warrior of Old (Elf Racial): Going first really isn't very important to the Magus.
- Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf Racial): Going first really isn't very important to the Magus.
- Climb (Str): Too situational.
- Fly (Dex): Gaining a Fly speed gets you a free +8 racial bonus to Fly, and your Dexterity will be good, so your Fly bonus should be excellent. I wouldn't spend more than one rank for the +3 class skill bonus.
- Intimidate (Cha): Charisma is a dump stat.
- Knowledge (arcana) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills, and your Intelligence will be good.
- Knowledge (dungeoneering) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills, and your Intelligence will be good.
- Knowledge (planes) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills, and your Intelligence will be good.
- Ride (Dex): You don't get a mount, and you can cast Fly. Why would you want a horse?
- Spellcraft (Int): Essential for scrolls, enemy spellcasters, and for crafting magic items if you choose to do so.
- Swim (Str): Too situational.
- Use Magic Device (Cha): Helpful for wands of Wizard spells that aren't on your spell list. If you want to use the Wand Wielder or Wand Mastery Magus Arcanas, this may be a good choice. You can also take the Pragmatic Activator trait to use Intelligence in place of your dumped Charisma.
Arcane Strike: It's not a ton of damage, and
you can enhance your weapon to be magical before DR/magic becomes a problem,
but it's a good use of a swift action.
- Riving Strike: Most of the spells that the Magus uses against enemies won't allow a saving throw, but there are some exceptions. Inflicting a -2 penalty to saves can really help to offset the different in DC between the Magus and the Wizard.
- Combat Expertise: You have the Intelligence and Dexterity for it, but you need attack bonus more than AC, and you aren't going to be using combat maneuvers.
Dimensional Agility: Due to the wording of Spell
Combat, you can use this to get a Pounce-style effect. Spell Combat allows
you to cast a spell with a Standard Action casting time (like Dimension
Door) before or after making a full attack. With Dimensional Agility, that
means that you can cast Dimension Door to teleport, make a full attack, and
potentially use a Swift Action if you have something with which to use it.
I wouldn't take this until fairly high level once you've got several 4th-level
spell slots, but level 15 is probably a good time since you get a third attack
from your base Attack bonus and have 4+ spell slots to spend.
Dimensional Assault: Not terribly useful,
but you can avoid attacks of opportunity and terrain, and look
Dimensional Dervish: Full attack
and move twice your speed in one round. Dimension Door is a
4th level spell, which is hard, but this can have a lot of
applications and looks ridiculously cool.
- Dimensional Maneuvers: Combat Maneuvers really aren't a thing that Magi do.
- Dimensional Savant: This would be much better if you had Sneak Attack, but a free +2 to hit is nice too.
- Dimensional Dervish: Full attack and move twice your speed in one round. Dimension Door is a 4th level spell, which is hard, but this can have a lot of applications and looks ridiculously cool.
- Dimensional Assault: Not terribly useful, but you can avoid attacks of opportunity and terrain, and look ridiculously cool.
- Extra Arcana: Unfortunately, most Magus Arcana are pretty bad. There are some fantastic ones, but they all have level requirements which are arranged in such a way that you can get all of the essentials at the level they become available with no conflicts.
- Extra Arcane Pool: Not completely necessary, but if you like to use your Arcane Pool, more points are always welcome.
- Lunging Spell Touch: You generally want to be within reach of your enemies so that you can use Spell Combat or Spellstrike, but
- Improved Initiative: The Magus isn't a save or suck caster, and it isn't a Rogue, so going first isn't particularly important.
- Lunge: Reach is great, and it can allow you to hit a whole bunch of extra people without moving.
- Power Attack: 13 Strength isn't particularly hard to get, and Power Attack can be a lot of extra damage. However, the Magus generally gets damage from spells, and because we only get 2/3 BAB, you won't get nearly as much from Power Attack as other combat classes.
- Preferred Spell: Pick Shocking Grasp, and you can apply whatever fancy metamagic feats you want when you drop spells.
Spell Focus: Most of the spells which the Magus
depends on don't depend on a saving throw, but Evocation could be a good choice.
- Greater Spell Focus: See Spell Focus.
Spell Specialization: 2 caster levels
doesn't sound like much, but it's a nice bit of extra damage.
- Greater Spell Specialization: You won't be able to get this until very high level, and it's hard to pick any one spell which you will like enough to justify this. Preferred Spell is strictly better, as it allows you to apply metamagic feats.
Spell Penetration: At high level Spell Resistance
can really shut you down, so Spell Resistance becomes extremely important.
- Greater Spell Penetration: See Spell Penetration.
- Spell Perfection: If you don't take this feat at least once, you're doing yourself a huge disservice. Its prerequisites are steep for good reason. The Magus only gets 6th-level spells, but this allows you to metamagic one spell up to 9th level despite that limitation. Pick something good like Shocking Grasp or Vampiric Touch. Use Empowered Maximized Vampiric Touch (an 8th-level spell) as a 2nd-level spell. Use Maximized Quickened Intensified Shocking Grasp as a 1st-level spell for 60 damage. It's not clear is Magical Lineage makes Intensified work like this, so check with your GM.
- Toughness: With d8 hit points, the Magus is a squishy front-line character, so more hit points really help.
Weapon Finesse: The Magus really needs Dexterity,
so using Weapon Finesse is almost guaranteed.
- Slashing Grace: This requires a dip into Swashbuckler for Swashbuckler Finesse unless you want to use a whip. The damage bonus is great, but remember that the Magus depends on spells for damage, so Dexterity to damage isn't crucial.
- Weapon Focus: Not fantastic, but required for Slashing Grace.
- Dazing Spell: Dazed is a good status condition, but 3 spell levels is very hard.
- Elemental Spell: This hugely improves the versatility of Shocking Grasp. If you take Preferred Spell, you can drop a second level spell to cast Shocking Grasp as any element you need whenever you want.
- Empower Spell: Not your best option, but good at high levels when Shocking Grasp starts to taper off.
- Extend Spell: Magi aren't really big on buff spells, with a few notable exceptions.
- Heighten Spell: Avoid spells which require a saving throw.
- Intensified Spell: Perhaps the most important feat to the Magus, Intensified Spell allows you to continue using Shocking Grasp long past where it should have stopped being viable. For only one spell level, this is a fantastic investment.
- Maximize Spell: 4 spells levels is over half of your spell level range. You could Maximize a second level spell, but the results will disappoint you.
- Piercing Spell: Spell Penetration is much better.
- Quicken Spell: Take the "Quicken Magic" Arcana instead.
- Silent Spell: Very situational.
- Still Spell: You need to be good enough at Concentration to Cast Defensively in almost any situation, so Still Spell becomes much less useful.
- Falcata: If you can spare a fea to get proficiency, the Falcata is a very scary weapon in the hands of a Magus. 19-20/x3 crits can really mess someone up, but remember that Spellstrike only allows you to do x2 damage with spells.
- Longsword: 19-20 threat range is decent, but critical hits with Spellstrike are about the scariest thing that a Magus can do, so you really want a better threat range.
- Rapier: 18-20 threat range, and it works with Weapon Finesse. You can't use it with Slashing Grace because it's not a slashing weapon, but it's a good choice until you can get Slashing Grace if you choose to go that way. If your DM is nice they might let you take Fencing Grace even though it goes beyond my "official SRD only" rule.
- Scimitar: 18-20 threat range, and you can use it with Slashing Grace, but doing so requires a Swashbuckler class dip.
- Whip / Scorpion Whip: While it lacks the Rapier's threat range, the whip has the added benefit of 15 foot reach, allowing you to hit your enemies from a nice safe distance. You need to use a Scorpion Whip to deal normal damage, and Scorpion Whip is a light weapon, so be sure to pick up Whip Mastery if you also want to use Slashing Grace. Of course this means that you need 5 feats to make the Whip a good weapon, so be very careful when considering it.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order.
- Studded Leather: Probably your starting armor, studded leather is adequate until can afford something nicer.
- Mithral Buckler: For 1015gp, the mithral buckler is +1 ac, no check penalty, and no spell failure. Literally every arcane spellcaster should have one. It costs half as much to enhance as a ring of protection, and provides just as much AC. Get this before you enhance your armor because you won't have to abandon it when you get better armor proficiency.
- Mithral Shirt: Your best bet for AC early on, and if you go up to 22 Dexterity it can remain your best bet for your full career.
- Haramaki: You only need to upgrade to Haramaki if your Dexterity bonus ever hits +10, which is pretty unlikely.
- Mithral Kikko: When you hit level 7, Mithral Kikko becomes your best option. It has one more point of AC than a Mithral Shirt and has the same +6 maximum dexterity bonus. Because it's mithral it's still treated as light armor, so you don't sacrifice speed.
- Mithral Tatami-Do: When you hit level 13, upgrade to heavy armor. Unless your Dexterity is high enough to justify using Haramaki, this is your best AC option at a total of +12. You sacrifice a bit of speed, but by this level you can cast Fly.
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.
- Swashbuckler: Swashbuckler Finesse saves you a feat on Weapon Finesse, and opens up Slashing Grace. A human Swashbuckler can get Slashing Grace at first level, then switch into Magus for the rest of their build. This is nice at low levels, but at high levels you may notice the loss of spellcasting and Magus class features, and once you can spam Shocking Grasp all day long the Dexterity bonus to damage will seem puny.
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.
We will assume the 25-point buy abilities suggested above, but the other suggested abilities can also use this build without any problems.
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.
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.
- Fly: One rank at some point, but no more than that.
- Knowledge (Arcana): Max.
- Knowledge (Dungeoneering): Max.
- Knowledge (Planes): Max.
- Knowledge (Religion): Not a class skill, but very important, so max it.
- Perception: Not a class skill, but still extremely useful. After your one rank in Fly, spend the rest of those ranks on Perception.
- Spellcraft: Max.
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.