Pathfinder - The Occultist 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.
I'm going to start this guide with an unusual warning: The Occultist is complicated. It has a lot of abilities which interact with each other in complicated and strange ways that can often be difficult to track. Expect to spend a lot of time calculating and re-calculating bonuses and modifiers throughout a normal day of adventuring. You will need to very carefully track numerous independent pools of resources, and the occultist grows in complexity very quickly as it gains levels.
Functionally, it's hard to say where the Occultist fits in the party. It doesn't have the class skills to be a Scout, but it can get the ones it's missing with traits. It doesn't have the skills to be a librarian, but it can get the ones it's missing with traits. It has almost no offensive abilities, so it can't be a Striker unless you invest all of your feats in becoming one. In medium armor and with no melee abilities to speak of, the Occoltist isn't a Defender. The Evocation school offers some blasting options, but the class doesn't have the spells to be a real Blaster. So without a bunch of hand holding and effort, the Occultist's best roles are as a Support and Utility casting character, and even then it's difficult to see how the Occultist really shines.
All told, the Occultist is complicated, lacks a clearly defined function, and doesn't do anything especially useful or interesting. Honestly, I don't know what role an Occultist has in a party.
Occultist Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points isn't a lot, but with medium armor you're at least as durable as a cleric.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB is good for a class which depends primarily on magical abilities.
Saves: Good Fortitude and Will saves.
Proficiencies: medium armor, shields, and martial weapons offer you lots of options.
Skills: 4+ skill ranks is great for an Intelligence-based class, and with a skill list falling somewhere between the rogue and the wizard you have plenty of options for your skill ranks.
Spell Casting: The occultist's spell casting is weird. They're spontaneous casters, and their list of spells known grows every time they learn a new implement school, and when they do that they need to select 10 levels of spells to add to their spell list. Occultists are 2/3 casters so don't expect to get by on save-or-suck spells or on blast spells; rely more heavily on utilityand buff spells.
Focus Powers (Su): Focus powers vary widely in quality. Remember that you get 10 non-base focus powers, so choose wisely and plan your choices well ahead of time.
Implements (Su): Implements are the defining class decision that Occultists make. Implements define both your spell list and your available powers. Check out my Occultist Implements Schools Breakdown for help selecting implement schools.
Mental Focus (Su): Your pool of focus points is the biggest limiting factor on your abilities. Many focus powers are very good, but you can eat through your focus points very quickly if you're not careful with them. Investing your focus at the beginning of the day is also a major decision since it defines what you get out of your resonant powers. If you're not sure what you'll need in a given day, don't be afraid to reserve some "general focus" to use in a pinch.
Magic Item Skill (Ex): UMD is the most powerful and versatile skill in the game. Using items like scrolls to access magical options which may otherwise be unavailable to your is a great trick, and a bonus like this makes it much easier to quickly reach the UMD bonus you need to use it reliably. Combine this with the Pragmatic Activator trait, and you're well on your way to mastering UMD.
Object Reading (Su): The ability to identify items is nice, but not particularly interesting since so many other characters can do it with Detect Magic. The ability to learn things about the previous user is exciting, and possibly a great story element. Unfortunately most of the time when an adventurer encounters magic items its on the dead bodies of the previous user.
Shift Focus (Su): This is a last-resort option. You want to do your absolute best to never use this. Transferring Focus out of an Implement debuffs the discharged Implement, but doesn't buff the charged Implement, so not only are you giving up a point of focus to make the transfer but you're also giving up some or all of the buff from your discharged Implement.
Aura Sight (Su): Detect Evil is a fantastic ability for Paladins: it lets them easily and almost unerringly locate and identify evil creatures. Take that utility, remove the need to concentrate on a 90-degree cone for three rounds, and open it up to all alignments simultaneously. Aura Sight is a 3rd-level spell for good reason, and you get to do it as early as anyone else for free as often as you like.
Magic Circles (Su): Magic circles of this type are situational, but can be very potent if you have time to plan their use. Don't expect to drag this into every encounter like you could with a Magic Circle Against X spell.
Outside Contact (Su): 3 hit dice won't get you anything powerful, but the strength of the outsider you summon doesn't really matter for the ability. Questioning an outsider for information can be a great way to gather information, and you don't have the failure percentage issue presented by the Divination spell. You also get gradually more information and more utility from your bound outsider as you level.
Binding Circles (Su): This is a great way to trap foes temporarily. Since you can't launch weapons into the circle without breaking it it's hardly an execution chamber, but an hour is a long time to parlay with enemies who might know quite a bit of useful information or to set up a suitable execution method.
Fast Circles (Su): The biggest limitation on the Occultist's magic circles is that they take so much time to prepare. A full round action is still a fairly restrictive amount of time in combat, but it's fast enough that you could drop one to trap a troublesome foe, to repel summoned creatures, or to buff your allies against a specific alignment.
Implement Mastery (Su):
Occultists have very few built-in offensive options beyond weapons, which make weapons an important backup when you don't want to use spells or focus powers. This means that the choice between Strength and Dexterity is important. Occultist powers generally have short ranges (generally 30 ft.) so being in melee is a real possibility. However, with only 2/3 BAB, no bonus feats, and no actual melee powers you're going to be a mediocre melee combatant at best. As such, I advise going the Dexterity route and sticking to magic and ranged weapons.
Str: If you plan to go into melee, you want 14. If you insist on using a regular bow, 14 is good but 12 is fine. Otherwise, dump to 7 and grab a crossbow.
Dex: In only medium armor you'll want to shoot for 16 Dexterity to fill out your Breastplate. If you're going for ranged weapons, take more. If you're going for melee, get 12 and get Heavy Armor Proficiency.
Con: Essential on every character. If you like the Undead Servant focus power, this is especially important since you only have 1d8 hit dice.
Int: Intelligence is the Occultist's most important ability by far, fueling both your spells and your focus powers.
Wis: Take a bit for Will saves.
Cha: The Occultist is not a Face by any means, and you can take the Pragmatic Activator trait to use Intelligence with UMD.
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Intelligence bonuses are hard to find among the base races, so look for other useful bonuses.
Dwarf: Nothing useful for the Occultist.
Elf: Bonuses to Dexterity and Intelligence, a bonus to overcome spell resistance, and the favored class bonus expands your Mental Focus considerably.
Gnome: Nothing useful for the Occultist.
Half-Elf: Flexible +2 goes into Intelligence, and take the Elf favored class bonus instead of the lousy half-elf one.
Half-Orc: Flexible +2, and the favored class bonus adds some extra damage to the Occultist's lackluster damage-dealing abilities.
Halfling: Dexterity bonus, small size, and the same favored class bonus as elves. Still not as good as Elf, but a good option if you want to be small.
Human: Flexible +2, bonus feat, bonus skills, and the favored class bonus can get you an extra Focus Power (the equivalent of the Extra Focus Power feat). Occultists are totally on their own to find combat options, which means that you really want that extra feat to improve your combat options.
Look for traits which expand your class skills. If your party lacks a Scout, pick up Stealth. If your party lacks a librarian, pick up some of the Knowledge Skills that you don't already have.
- Appraise (Int): Pay an NPC.
- Diplomacy (Cha): The Occultist is not a face.
- Disable Device (Dex): Every party needs someone who can handle traps and locks.
- Disguise (Cha): Just use magic.
- Fly (Dex): One rank is rpobably enough.
- Knowledge (arcana) (Int): One of the most improtant knowledge skills.
- Knowledge (engineering) (Int): One rank if you can spare it.
- Knowledge (history) (Int): Crucial in some campaigns, but it depends heavily on your GM.
- Knowledge (planes) (Int): Important for identifying outsiders, and for planar travel, but not important in every game.
- Knowledge (religion) (Int): One of the most improtant knowledge skills.
- Linguistics (Int):
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
- Sense Motive (Wis):
- Sleight of Hand (Dex):
- Spellcraft (Int): Essential in any party and you have the Intelligence to back it up.
- Use Magic Device (Cha): The most powerful skill in the game. Charisma is a dump stat for Occultists, but Magic Item Skill will easily make up for dumped Charisma.
I won't touch on every feat you need to make the Occultist useful in combat. The basic feat chains for Power Attack and for ranged weapons (Point-Blank shot, etc.) are really easy to figure out, and Occultist doesn't have any unique interactions with any of them. I'll point out stuff which the Occultist might enjoy more than other users of the same feats, as well as Occultist-specific feats.
- Armor Proficiency (Heavy): If you're in melee, this is crucial. Without it, you're too MAD. Fortunately, Psychic spells don't suffer Arcane Spell Failure from armor.
- Efficient Focus Shift: Buy a Refocusing Rod.
- Extend Resonant Power: The abilities which you would reasonably want to share can already be shared.
- Extra Focus Power:: Most of the focus schools only have one or two focus powers that are worth taking, but you get access to additional focus schools over time, opening up numerous useful options.
- Extra Mental Focus: Good at low levels, but if you're and Elf or Halfling your favored class bonus is considerably better.
- Focused Shot: If you're using a crossbow and don't want to invest a bunch of feats into it, Focus Shot helps you capitalize on your Intelligence. It only requires a standard action, leaving your move action for reloading. Unfortunately it's not compatible with Vital Strike because activating either is its own Standard Action.
- Implement Focus: Unless you take this feat several times, it's not meaningfully better than just comitting additional focus to your favorite implement.
- Rapid Focus Shift: Too situational.
- Strong Implement Link: Too situational.
Your choice of weapon depends entirely on your build and your feat choices.
Armor is presented in the order in which you should acquire it, rather than alphabetical order. Magic armor is covered below in the Magic Items section.
- Hide: Good, cheap starting armor if you don't want to spend the gold to get four-mirrow.
- Four-Mirror: The best AC bonus which you can afford at first level.
- Heavy Shield: Great for the AC bonus, but using a heavy shield makes it difficult to cast spells because you need to drop your weapon or shield to get a free hand. Of course, if you're using Energy Ray instead of a weapon it really doesn't matter.
- Breastplate: The same AC bonus as four-mirror, but a slightly better ACP and lower weight.
- 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.
- Refocusing Rod: If you find that you use Shift Focus frequently, this is a good investment. Otherwise, skip 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.
- Belt of physical stats: Your Intelligence is more important, so don't rush to get one.
- Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forego.
- Headband of vast intelligence +2: Your most important item.
- Reduce Person: If you're built for ranged combat you don't need Strength, so the bonus Dexterity and size bonuses to attack and AC are fantastic.
Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
The Occultist is heavily dependent on Mental Focus, which requires that you stay in the class to grow the pool. Occultist doesn't offer any useful abilities for class dipping, either, so generally if you're an Occultist you're only an Occultist.