Pathfinder - Wizard Schools Breakdown
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 wizard sits at the top of the class tier list. With a stunning array of spells and abilities, there are very few problems that a wizard can't solve. A wizard's school is the lense through which he sees the world, and determines how he is played and how he approaches problems.
Despite their limited base skill ranks, Wizards' dependence on Intelligence gives them a large enough pool of skill ranks that they can fill a number of skill-based roles depending on their build. However, many will find that the wizard is best served by investing in Knowledge skills to capitalize on their stellar intellect. In addition to their "Librarian" role, Wizards can also fill a variety of other roles depending on their school and spell selections.
The abjuration school features most defensive buff spells, some miscellaneous defensive utility spells (such as Alarm), and Dispel Magic. Many of these spells are critical to the success of an adventuring party, but the school abilities offer very little.
Resistance (Ex): Energy resistance is nice, but it can be hard to predict what you need. Since you're an abjurer, you're definitely going to have access to energy resistance spells, but this can save you a spell. If you can't pick an option on a given day, pick fire because it's the most common. The immunity at level 20 is nice, but a little bit late to matter.
Protective Ward (Su): Deflection bonuses are nice, but most characters will have a ring of protection. After very low levels. The 10 foot range also means that you have to be right in the thick of combat for this to have any effect.
Energy Absorption (Su): Energy absorption allows you to resist any type of energy damage without needing to prepare for it beforehand. It's a nice ability, but you shouldn't ever need it.
The Banishment school is intended to handle summoned creatures. Because summoning things is generally reserved for spellcasters and certain outsides, your school powers will see very little use. In addition, they force you into uncomfortably close quarters with your enemies, which is never a good place for a wizard.
Replaced Powers: Energy Absorption and the Protective Ward.
Unstable Bonds (Su): As a melee touch attack, you can partially disable a target creature. There is not save, which is nice, but this is miles worse than the school power for Enchantment.
Aura of Banishment (Su): If you are in a campaign with a lot of summoners, this is worthwile. A fairly small portion of enemies rely on summoning multiple creatures, so this will not see frequent use. If you need to get rid of a single creature, Banishment is a much better option.
Counterspelling is rarely a good option for a spellcaster, as any round that you spend sitting around waiting to counterspell is another free round that your enemies can do whatever they like. The Counterspell subschool offer a couple of really good options for shutting down enemy spellcasters. If you are in a setting or game which features a large number of spellcasters, it's very easy to find a place for the Counterspell Abjurer.
Replaced Powers: Energy Absorption and the Protective Ward.
Disruption (Su): If this didn't require a melee touch attack, it could easily be green. The concentration DC is extremely high, and the duration on this effect may very well outlast a normal combat at high levels. However, the round you use it is a round that you're not casting spells.
Counterspell Mastery (Su): If you want to counterspell things, you probably already have Improved Counterspell, so you basically get a bonus feat. Allowing you to counterspell as an immediate action is the real ability here. The limited uses per day are dissappointing, but if you consider spellcasters as a subset of all of the enemies you might face in a day, you probably have enough uses to change the outcome of a battle or two.
Conjuration is one of the best schools. It features direct damage spells with no spell resistance, teleportation, summoning, and creation spells. At high levels, summoning spells allow you to summon spellcasters to expand your spellcasting capacity, and you can even summons some creatures which have limited healing abilities. The Conjuration school powers nicely supplement the schools abilities. With the wide range of creatures which you can summon, you can do basically everything but hold a conversation.
Summoner's Charm (Su): One of the biggest limitations on Summon Monster spells is their duration. Improving it by 50% is hugely beneficial, especially at high level when your summons can cast spells.
Acid Dart (Sp): This is better than the Acid Splash cantrip about 90% of the time. However, it's a Spell-Like Ability, which means that spell resistance applies. Acid Splash's biggest draw is that it's a conjuration spell so it doesn't allow spell resistance. This is a weird irony, but rarely important. Having this ability largely supplants the need for offensive cantrips, which opens up space for more interesting choices.
Dimensional Steps (Sp): Conjuration includes teleportation, which gives you lots of options to get out of trouble. Since this is a standard action, it means moving instead of casting spells. In some situations this is fine, but you will likely only use this in cases where you are otherwise unable to cast spells.
Depending on what your DM will let you make with creation spells, this can be a very powerful option. Theorycrafters and muchkins will generally suggest poisons as an excellent option for creation spells, and so long as your DM allows it, poisons are a good choice. Creation effects can be very versatile in the hands of creative player, but this subschool's effectiveness depends heavily on your ability to be creative under pressure.
Replaced Powers: Acid Dart and the Dimensional Steps.
Create Gear (Su): The flavor on this ability is cool, but the limitation on moving parts is dissappointing. If your DM is particularly flexible (read: "stupid"), you could use this to create expensive items like gold. You could also do something silly like creating poison for your rogue, or create a bunch of oil and set it on fire. Get creative, and see what your DM will let you get away with.
Creator's Will (Sp): You get the Minor Creation and Major Creation spells as spell-like abilities. You can cast the spells anyway, but the large number of uses is nice. Use creation to create poisons, special ammunition, and other things which are expensive with limited use. Or, create a giant ball of steel and roll it over your enemies. Again, see what your DM will let you get away with.
The teleportation school is a very small change from the Conjuration school. It gives up the Acid Dart power for a swift action teleport ability. At high levels where Acid Dart isn't useful, Shift gets progressively more powerful, making this subschool a better option at higher levels.
Replaced Power: Acid Dart.
Shift (Su): Teleport a few squares as a swift action. The range starts of at 5 feet, which is a swift action for a second 5 foot step. Even if I weren't a wizard, I would be happy spending a swift action for a second 5 foot step.
The Forewarned ability is really the best part of this school. Despite how incredible it is, the rest of the school powers are highly situational, which severely limits the school's appeal.
Forewarned (Su): Being able to act in every surprise round means you get to cast an extra spell even if you are surprised. The initiative bonus itself would probably make this ability blue.
Diviner's Fortune (Sp): The 1 round duration seems fairly limiting, so you probably won't want to waste your time using this in combat. Instead, use that insight bonus to buff your team for important skill checks like disarming traps and opening locks. Insight bonuses are fairly rare, so this is easy to stack with other buffs.
Scrying Adept (Su): If you have recurring enemies, this could be bumped up to green. If you don't have recurring enemies, it will be pretty rare for anyone to be scrying you, and you probably won't have a lot of familiar enemies to scry on.
The Foresight subschool gives up the Divination school's lousy higher level abilities in favor of two really amazing abilities. If you want to play a diviner, this subschool is clearly the better option.
Replaced Powers: Diviner's Fortune and Scrying Adept.
Prescience (Su): The applications for this ability are numerous. Roll it on turns you're expecting to make a saving throw or a touch attack, and you can plan your turn before knowing the results. At worst, this is effectively a free reroll 3+int times per day.
Foretell (Su): A +2 luck bonus to attacks and saving throws is absolutely incredible. Luck bonuses are among the rarest in the game, and allowing you to turn this ability on and off is like a power switch for awesome. The 30 foot range is concerning, but for a luck bonus the risk is likely worth the reward.
Sense Senses is potentially more useful than Diviner's Fortune, but not notably. This is really a side-step for the Diviner, but the potentially increased awareness fits the school's theme better than Diviner's Fortune.
Replaced Powers: Diviner's Fortune.
Send Senses (Sp): Line of sight Claraudience/Clairvoyance. With some clever use, this can be fairly helpful. However, you are completely shut down by something as simple as a door or a curtain.
The Enchanter is the ultimate save-or-suck caster. Every spell you cast should have immediate and dramatic results, and will very often end a fight with a word and gesture. With some fairly simple trait and skill selections, you can ever serve as the party's face despite potentially terrible charisma.
Enchanting Smile (Su): A bonus to social skills is weird for a wizard. If you expend resources to be a face, this might actually be useful. But most likely, you won't be doing a lot of Bluffing. The level 20 ability is fantastic, but won't see a lot of use.
Dazing Touch (Sp): Dazed is a great status condition and this power has no saving throws, but this is a melee touch attack, which you will be terrible at, and it only affects things with your hit dice of fewer, which is generally only going to NPCs or things with a CR lower than your level. Your familiar can't deliver the attack since it's not a spell. It can be situationally useful if you get grappled or if you ambush someone, but it's not going to be your go-to options.
Aura of Despair (Su): The 30 foot range is problematic, and the duration is fairly limited, but a -2 to saves against everything affected is brutal, The debuff matches the Shaken condition and stacks with it. If you can make a target Shaken, they're looking at a total -4 penalty on saves against your absurd spell DCs. Sickened adds another -2.
Force of Will (Su): You give up charming smile for the ability to communicate with your charmed/dominated targets telepathically. This is great for communicating with subjects which don't speak common, and lets you boss things around without revealing that they're charmed/dominated. You could even use Charm Person on your party members to set up a cheap telepathic communication system.
Irresistible Demand (Sp): This is strictly worse than Dominate Monster, the duration is extremely limited, the save is average, and you have to concentrate as a standard action to maintain the effect. However, it's Dominate Monster at 8th level. With careful application, this is a really fantastic way to mimic a 9th level spell for a few rounds.
Beguiling Touch (Sp): You trade in the mediocre Dazing Touch for the considerably worse Beguiling Touch. Beguiling touch allows a save, has a very short duration, and doesn't work in combat or on hostile creatures. If you really need to charm something, cast Charm Person or Charm Monster. You're an enchanter, so you're really good at those.
Shape Emotions (Sp): You can now use your aura to give your party a +4 bonus on saves against fear, or your can give enemies a -2 penalty on saves against mind-affecting spells and effects. The bonus against feat can be replaced with Remove Fear, the -2 penalty is worse than the save penalty from Aura of Despair, and Aura of Despair applies penalties to attacks, ability checks, and skill checks.
Evocation is the blunt hammer of magic. Straight damage lacks the elegance of less direct schools, but it's hard to argue with the effectiveness of Fireball. Most theorycrafters will decry that dealing damage is the less effective than save-or-suck spells, but evocation spells like fireball are better at handling crowds of enemies which save-or-suck spells typically have trouble with.
Intense Spells (Su): If all you want is to do damage, this ability is pretty fantastic. The ability notes that the damage only applies once per spell, but fails to mention area of effect spells. Your DM may choose to apply the damage to everyone in an AOE (it's only one damage roll), or he may make you pick the recipient. Work this out with your DM ahead of time, as it will define how you play your character. This ability also has the amusing affect of keeping your low level damage spell relevant into higher levels.
Force Missile (Sp): Similar to magic missile, this ability is the best of the damage dealing school powers. Because it is a force effect, it can affect incorporeal creatures, and you don't have to worry about energy resistance.
Elemental Wall (Sp): Fire wall is a reasonably good spell, and being able to move this around easily makes it considerably more powerful and versatile.
Losing force missile is hard for an evoker since you won't have many combat options at low levels, but Intense Spells applies to cantrips, so you can fall back on Acid Splash. Versatile Evocation fixes the evoker's biggest problem, and elemental manipulation gives your party a very solid defensive option against energy damage.
Replaced Powers: Force Missile and Elemental Wall.
Versatile Evocation (Su): One of the biggest problems for evokers is energy resistance. This effectively removes that complication.
Elemental Manipulation (Su): Get your team energy resistance to one type of energy, then make all energy that type of energy. Easy energy resistance to every energy type.
The Generation subschool powers don't really fit the theme of the school, and the don't do anything particularly helpful.
Replaced Powers:Intense Spells and Force Missile.
Lingering Evocations (Su): There aren't a lot of evocation spells with a duration greater than instantaenous, and most of them are fairly dull.
Wind Servant (Sp): This is what mage hand is for.
Illusion is a hard school to play. The effects are highly subjective, so your effectiveness is almost entirely dependant on how creative you and your DM are. Your DM needs to be very good at ignoring metagame knowledge in order to play enemies correctly while illusions are in effect. Discuss this school with your DM before you play, or you may find that your DM is unintentionally ruining your attempts at illusion.
Extended Illusions (Su): A lot of illusions have a duration of concentration, especially low levels ones. You may not need this ability often, but it's good for covering a getaway or maintaining a distraction while you cast other spells.
Blinding Ray (Sp): Blinding a target is potentially crippling. If you have a rogue in your party, this is will get a lot of use. Keep in mind that it only meaningfully affects creatures with HD equal to or less than your wizard level, so you will need a fairly good knowledge of monster stats to use this reliably.
Invisibility Field (Sp): Absolutely fantastic. In addition to the obvious stealth benefits, invisibility is great for escaping melee, and for attacking creatures with high dexterity. Creatures which are flat-footed to you will often have a touch AC of 10 (adjusted for size and deflection), which can make them a great target for touch attacks like your blinding ray or disintegrate.
The Phantasm subschool can be a lot of fun with a good rogue in your party, but it doesn't do much for you as a caster.
Replaced Powers: Blinding Ray and Invisibility Field.
Terror (Su): This makes you weirdly good at flanking with a rogue, but you generally shouldn't be in melee enough to make use of this. You may be able to do some clever class dipping to abuse this.
Bedeviling Aura (Su): Auto-flanking for rogues! Woo! Sneak attacks everywhere!
The Shadow subschool gives up some of the Illusion school's offensive options in exchange for some mobility-centric powers. The powers are interesting, but not particularly helpful.
Replacement Powers: Blinding Ray and Invisibility Field.
Binding Darkness (Sp): Entangling difficult foes can be helpful, but this also gives the target concealment, which makes it difficult for your allies to attack, and impossible to sneak attack unless they have darkvision.
Shadow Step (Sp): This is a cool movement option similar to the Conjuration school's Dimensional Steps. It also lets you take people with you, which is particularly nice.
The Necromancy school's powers are lacklust, dangerous to use, and require investment in abilities which most wizards will never find a use for. The abilities don't enhance your abilities as a spellcaster, so they will likely only see limited use.
Power over Undead (Su): A charisma-based ability on wizard. The ability to command additional undead is nice if you invest in charisma, but your existing spellcasting ability should be more than enough without needing to invest in a dump stat.
Grave Touch (Sp): If you are getting close enough to make a melee touch attack, you need a much better effect than Shaken.
Life Sight (Su): Life Sight is a really cool ability, but with such a short range and duration, it's not going to help you very much..
Life is a very odd subschool. It forgoes all of the normal evilness associated with Necromancy, and gives you some fairly fantastic healing powers. If your party is short on healing, this is a really great option.
Replaced Powers: Power Over Undead and Grave Touch.
Healing Grace (Su): A fairly limited amount of healing, but real healing effects are incredibly rare for wizards. Note that this applies to all of your spells, so you can heal people while casting buff spells, or you can heal them if they get caught in one of your attack spells. You can even target yourself, which plays nicely into Share Essence.
Share Essence (Sp): You can take nonlethal damage to give your team temporary hit points, potentially preventing real damage. I would use this before every fight. Keep in mind that healing damage heals an equal amount of nonlethal damage, so if you take a little damage during the fight, you can remove the whole deal with fairly little effort.
Replacing Grave Touch makes the Necromancy school a bit more playable. The Undead subschool still isn't fantastic, but if your DM lets you have undead pets in the party, bolster makes them considerably more powerful.
Replaced Power: Grave Touch.
Bolster (Sp): This provides some pretty nice benefits to an undead. If you use Create Undead (and you probably should as a necromancer) or anything of the sort, this is miles better than Grave Touch. The uses are still limited, so save it for your favorite pet instead of trying to spam it on every skeleton you're dragging around.
The transmutation school is complex to play. Transmutation includes many excellent buff and debuff spells, and also includes the iconic Polymorph spells. If you're planning to play a Transmuter, you are likely looking to play a Polymorpher.
Wizards only have d6 hit points, and you will need good scores in all of your physical abilities to do anything useful while shapeshifted. At low levels before you get Beast Shape, you're going to be fairly useless since you'll have to rely on non-transmutation spells or (gods forbid) using a weapon in combat.
Physical Enhancement (Su): The bonus is certainly nice, and it greatly reduces the amount of money you need to spend on a belt. I would recommend constitution since your hit points are terrible, and transmuters spend a lot of time pretending to be a melee monster.
Telekinetic Fist (Sp): Not spectacular compared to similar school powers, but it's bludgeoning damage so you don't have to worry about energy resistance. It also provides you with a combat option at low levels before you can Polymorph.
Change Shape (Sp): Some extra free shapeshifting. The duration is pretty short, so you'll probably want to save this for moving about as something with a special movement type, like flying across a chasm or digging through the wall of a tunnel.
The Enhancement subschool suffers from duration issues. The buffs are too mediocre to justify their unbearably short durations.
Replacement Powers: Telekinetic Fist and Change Shape.
Augment (Sp): The duration is pretty short until very high levels, but it can be nice to buff the fighter before you jump into combat.
Perfection of Self (Su): Sometimes you need to do a shit load of damage in one round. At those times, buff your strength a whole bunch and stomp on someone. This couples well with Polymorphing into something with Pounce.
The Shapechange subschool trades your low level attack option for the ability to gain additional natural attacks. This can be fantastic at high levels when you can Polymorph, but it leaves you with very limited options until level 5.
Replaced Power: Telekinetic Fist.
Battleshaping (Su): The real benefit here is using it while shapeshifted. Turn into a Dire Tiger and get a gore attack. Losing telekinetic fist hurts at low levels, especially due to your limited combat options at low level, but this can do some great things for you once you can Polymorph.
Despite fairly unexciting powers, the Universalist school is still a fantastic go-to option. The simple utility of having every wizard spell easily available makes the universalist a solid option in any situation.
Hand of the Apprentice (Su): For a straight wizard, this is the worst of the comparable school attack powers. The damage is comparable if you use a staff or club, but you have to hit their normal AC. At low levels you can potentially rely on your high intelligence to overcome their AC, but your garbage BAB is going to cause this ability to fall off sharply. If you're going for Eldritch Knight, this may retain some usefulness, especially if you get a decent weapon to throw around.
Metamagic Mastery (Su): Using more powerful metamagic feats requires addiitonal daily uses, so Quicken and Maximize require 4 daily uses, which you won't get until level 14. However, the amount of versatility offer by the power is certainly impressive.
The mobility provided by Air Supremecy is incredibly useful at high level, especially since it can't be dispelled. There aren't a lot of earth spells, so you're giving up very little for this school. The cyclone power also gives you an excellent air supremacy option.
Air Supremacy (Su): Levitate at 5th level is cool if you want to be a motionless floating target, but permanent fly at level 10 is fantastic. Overland flight is fine for most people, but this saves you a mid level spell slot and gives you much better speed.
Lightning Flash (Su): This is a panic option. If you're ever surrounded and can't get away, this may deter some low level foes. The dazzled effect is totally negligible, and the damage is small, so don't go looking to use this.
Cyclone (Su): Shot down anything that flies. Very few flying creatures (except dragons) will have enough strength to reliably pass the DC here, and you can do a ridiculous amount of falling damage with this power.
The Earth school doesn't have a lot of cool spells to draw on, and its abilities are fairly bad.
Earth Supremacy (Su): You should never be the target of any of these combat maneuvers. That's the fighter's job. The 20th level ability is pretty cool, and lets you do fun things like stone shape people into a box, then throw fireballs into it.
Acid Cloud (Su): The only real nice thing about this power is that it lasts for a round, which provides a small area control effect. The damage is what you would expect from a school power, and sickened is a decent status condition, but the ability only affecs adjacent squres so you don't want to use this directly.
Earth Glide (Su): A lousy version of passwall.
If you want to be a blaster spellcaster, but don't want to give up schools to be an evoker, this is the way to go.
Fire Supremacy (Su): This is basically the Abjuration school's energy resistance ability, but it only applies to fire. Of course, fire is your go-to option for energy resistance, so this is almost as good.
Fire Jet (Su): A 20 foot line of fire is pretty decent, especially at low levels. If you can catch multiple foes, this can be better than burning hands.
Dancing Flame (Su): Sculpt Spell for free with fire spells.
There aren't a lot of water or ice spells, and the class abilities are pretty bad.
Water Supremacy (Su): You get good at swimming and holding your breath, but they don't just let you breath underwater.
Cold Blast (Su): Staggered is a great status condition, but you never want to be close enough to your enemies to need this.
Wave (Su): The AOE of this ability gets impressively large, which can let you push enemies a really impressive distance. However, it doesn't inflict a status effect more meaningful than prone, and the number of rounds you can use it is very limited.
Grab your electric guitar and your magic wand, and get ready to suck at being a wizard. This class is closest to being an evoker, but you give up fire spells, which includes iconic evocation spells like fireball and scorching ray.
Metal Magic: You get some very lousy druid spells added to your spell list, and you get a version of the Evocation school's Intense Spells which applies only to metal things or people in medium or heavy armor.
Metal Rending (Su): If it's made of metal it's probably a golem, so it's immune to anything that allows spell resistance. If it's wearing medium or heavy armor, it's either a cleric or an oracle, or it doesn't have spell resistance.
Iron Skin (Su): +2 typeless bonus to AC is alright, but a wizard doesn't usually have a high enough AC for this to have any appreciable effec, even with the scaling.
Shrapnel Burst (Su): This does about as much damage as channel energy, but DR applies to it because it's piercing damage. This is considerably worse than about a dozen spells you can cast at this level, and the range is terrible.
A wizard has the power of the cosmos at his disposal, and you decide that you like wood, you dirty hippy. You give up the very small list of earth spells and get a lot of really impressive spells and abilities. I have no idea why this school is so amazing consider how completely boring the other elemental schools are.
Wood Magic: You get some very respectable druid spells added to the wizard's already impressive spell list.
Flexible Enhancement (Su): This is strictly better than the Transmutation school's Physical Enhancement power. 90% of the time, you'll want it in constitution since you don't really need your other ability scores all that much.
Splintered Spear (Su): A 100 foot range attack, and you use your intelligence for attack and damage, and it causes bleed, and it gains an enhancement bonus as you level. Hands-down the best school attack power.
Cooperative Defense (Su): As long as you're withing 30 feet, your fighte can use your vastly superior will save. Fairly limited uses per day, but considering how amazing this is I don't think we have room to complain. This may make it worthwile for you to put a feat into Iron Will to protect the rest of your party.