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Pathfinder - Shaman Archetypes Breakdown

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.

Archetypes

Animist

The animist is a weird archetype with some interesting healing and utility powers. Unfortunately, the spell list is garbage, and because spells are such a major part of the Shaman it really drags down the whole archetype.

Animist Spirit Magic: Nearly every option is situational, and many of them address similar situations, so you don't get a lot of utility.

  1. speak with animals: Very situational.
  2. skinsend: This spell is conceptually terrifying, but completely useless until someone else in your party can cast Heal. Once you hit that point, this is a cool way to go into dangerous situations without risking your life. Keep in mind that your skin only has 3 strength so it will have trouble doing things like wearing armor.
  3. speak with plants: Very situational.
  4. malfunction: Confusion is bad, and this is worse because it only affects one type of creature.
  5. dream: Very situational.
  6. speak with stone: Very situational.
  7. control construct: Situational, but potentially very effective, especially at high levels when hit dice scaling slows.
  8. trap the soul: Extremely effective save or suck, but the material component is absurdly expensive.
  9. soul bind: Situational and very expensive, but sometimes you need to make absolutely sure that someone can't come back to haunt you.

Wrangle Condition (Su): This is a pretty great concept, but most of the status conditions included will go away in a round or two. The best conditions which you can remove and blindness and deafness, and you can remove those with Remove Blindness/Deafeness long before you can reliably hit a DC 30 Diplomacy check.

Exorcism (Su): Situational.

Dominate Spirit (Sp): Magic Jar is insanely powerful, but requires a very expensive focus. If you can find a physical strong but weak-willed body, you can take it over and wander around and kill things without worrying about your own safety so long as your familiar remains within 10 feet. As you gain more uses per day, you can drop your current body and go grab another.

Contact with the Spirit World (Su): Situational, and the duration is needlessly short.

Etherealness (Sp): Etherealness is fantastic as an escape or infiltration mechanic, and as a defensive buff.

Spirit Shaman (Sp): Ethereal Jaunt and Astral Projection are both very powerful, but it hurts to give up Manifestation.

Replaced Features: Spirit (Spirit Magic Spells), Hexes (2nd, 10th, 12th, 18th), Manifestation

Compatible Archetypes: Speaker For the Past, Visionary

Possessed Shaman

The Possessed Shaman is a really cool flavor, and greatly improves the Shaman's skills. If your party is short on skills, strongly consider this archetype.

Shared Skill (Su): Pick two skills which your party really needs. Depending on the skill, using your Wisdom modifier instead of the normal ability may be worth more than the +3 class skill bonus, but if you really want it you can usually get a skill as a class skill from a trait.

Crowded Vessel (Su): Situational, but Charm/Compulsion effects are very scary and can lead to TPKs.

Wandering Skills (Su): Excellent, allowing you to change it every day adds a lot of versatility.

Replaced Features: Spirit Magic, Hexes (2nd), Wandering Hexes (6th)

Compatible Archetypes: Speaker For the Past, Visionary, Witch Doctor

Speaker for the Past

The Speaker For the Past replaces the Shaman's Spirit Animal and Wandering Spirit abilities with access to major portions of the Oracle's Ancestor and Time Mysteries.

Mysteries of the Past: The new skills are great, but the Shaman still doesn't get a lot of skill ranks to throw around. Adding the spells from the Ancestor and Time Mysteries gives you some interesting new options. For help with Oracle Mysteries, see my Oracle Mysteries Breakdown.

Revelations of the Past: Many of the Ancestor and Time Revelations are fantastic, and access to them in addition to Shaman and Witch Hexes gives you a huge number of options.

Replaced Features: Familiar, Wandering Spirit, Wandering Hex

Compatible Archetypes: Animist, Possessed Shaman, Spirit Warden, Witch Doctor

Spirit Warden

The Spirit Warden's best trick is resisting Death and Negative Energy effects. While these effects are scary, they don't define the game, which makes the Spirit Warden only situationally effective.

Unnatural Mien (Ex): Handle Animal is worthless to the Shaman, but Diplomacy is generally more useful than Intimidate. If you really need Diplomacy, pick a trait to get it as a class skill.

Restless Magic (Su): A mixed bag, but several great options.

  1. detect undead: Very situational.
  2. command undead: Good for stealing mindless undead from other spellcasters.
  3. halt undead: Very situational.
  4. death ward: Excellent resistance to several scary effects, but the duration is short.
  5. possess object: Because this prevents you from casting spells, it's situational.
  6. undead to death: Situational.
  7. ethereal jaunt: Great as an infiltration or escape mechanism.
  8. control undead: Allows you to control more undead pets, and you can steal mindless undead from other spellcasters.
  9. foresight: Fantastic buff. Insight bonuses are rare and expensive, and a 10 minute per level duration will get you a few hours of protection.

Rebuke Spirits (Su): Situational.

Laugh at Death (Su): Somewhat situational, but death effects are very scary and become more prevalent at high levels.

Replaced Features: Class Skills, Spirit (Spirit Magic Spells), Shaman Hexes (2nd, 10th)

Compatible Archetypes: Speaker For the Past, Visionary

Unsworn Shaman

The Unsworn Shaman gives up half of the Shaman's Hexes for vastly improved versatility. With the ability to change their Spirit and Hexes every day, the Unsworn Shaman can change their tricks on a daily basis to fit their needs.

Minor Spirit (Su): The Unsworn Shaman gets half as many Hexes as a normal Shaman, but you can change your choices on a daily basis, thereby allowing you to trade out options which work at low levels for more powerful options.

Spirit Animal: A bit more versatile, but the bonuses are still barely useful.

Wandering Spirit (Su): Two wandering spirits means that you can change your abilities to match your needs on a daily basis.

Spirit Magic (Sp): Hardly a meaningful change.

Replaced Features: Spirit, Hex, Wandering Hex, Spirit Magic (Altered)

Compatible Archetypes: None

Visionary

The Visionary is a Divination-focused Shaman. Despite some flavorful abilities, they don't really cater to an adventurer. Save this archetype for the NPC you go to when you have questions.

Bonus Feat: Situational.

Discern Magical Expertise (Ex): Very situational, slow, and the target gets a saving throw.

Vision Spirit Magic: A mixed bag of divinations.

  1. see alignment: Situational.
  2. see invisibility: Situational, but good to have and a decent duration.
  3. clairaudience/clairvoyance: Excellent for scouting.
  4. detect scrying: Very situational.
  5. prying eyes: Excellent for scouting.
  6. legend lore: Cast this spell, turn to the GM, and say "so tell me about your backstory". This spell is situational, but when you're missing huge portions of the plot, it's amazingly powerful.
  7. vision: How often do you think you are going to need to cast Legend Lore in combat? With the exception of the possible days/weeks casting times for Legend Lore, you really shouldn't need this.
  8. moment of prescience: Fantastic and very versatile.
  9. foresight: With a minimum 3 hour duration, this should last a long time. Insight bonuses to AC and saves are uncommon, so this should be a nice buff.

Improved Divination (Su): These spells likely won't see a lot of use, and the Visionary's improvements to these spells are fairly minor.

Wandering Spirit (Su): The Visionary never gets the "True" version of Wandering Spirit, but still gains the spell list and the first two abilities.

Replaced Features: Wandering Spirit, Wandering Hex (6th),

Compatible Archetypes: Animist, Possessed Shaman, Spirit Warden, Witch Doctor

Witch Doctor

The Witch Doctor is an entirely reactive character, and reactive characters usually aren't useful. If you want to spend the entire game dispelling magic and counterspelling, the Witch Doctor has some interesting options, but beyond that the archetype is dull and full of situational options.

Alignment: This shouldn't matter in most campaigns.

Channel Energy (Su): Situational, and you lose 3 levels of channeling.

Counter Curse (Su): Situational.

Countering Hex (Su): Very situational. There is almost never a good time to counterspell.

Replaced Features: Shaman Hexes (4th, 8th, 10th, 12th)

Compatible Archetypes: Possessed Shaman, Speaker For the Past, Visionary