War Magic is like tank mage

Getting lots of defense

Flexing as you cast

(BLOCK) (BLOCK) (BLOCK) (BLOCK) (BLOCK) (BLOCK) (BLOCK)

-A Crap Guide to D&D (Wizard) by Jocat

Introduction

War Magic. Huh. Yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely everything a Wizard needs. Durability? We got it. Always going first to instantly win every combat encounter in one spell? We got that too. The War Magic Wizard is a flexible chassis that supports whatever you want to do as a traditional Wizard.

Compared to the other Wizard Traditions, War Magic is the generalist. The Spell School Traditions each dig down to find something special for one school of magic, while the Bladesingers and Scribes attempt more esoteric ways of Wizardry, but War Magic focuses on making sure that in the middle of a fight, the Wizard can actually do Wizard things; mostly through a combination of enhanced defenses and boosted Initiative.

Speaking of Initiative, if you have ever wanted to try a character that always gets to go first, have a look at our example build down below.

Table of Contents

Disclaimer

RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.

  • Red: Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
  • Orange: OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
  • Green: Good options. Useful often.
  • Blue: Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.

We will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, in handbooks for official content because we can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. We also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and we can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.

The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.

RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.

War Magic Tradition Features

  1. Arcane Deflection: Shield provides a better AC bonus, but the real appeal here is the bonus to saves. +4 is enough to make a huge difference, and features that provide similar bonuses (The Paladin’s Aura of Protection, the Artificer’s Flash of Genius, etc.) are never available this early in your career.

    However, Arcane Deflection comes with an opportunity cost beyond your Reaction: You can’t cast leveled spells during your next turn. Consider that casting leveled spells is your primary function as a wizard, that’s a lot to give up. When you use Arcane Deflection, you need to be ready to spend your next turn using cantrips or something. At low levels where your spell slots are few in number that’s not a problem, but as you gain levels the opportunity cost grows considerably. You can’t even use items like wands to get around this because those items still cause you to cast a spell.

    There may still be times where Absorb Elements or Shield make more sense so that you can cast leveled spells on your turn, and fortunately as the opportunity cost to use Arcane Deflection increases, the opportunity cost to prepare Absorb Elements and Shield is reduced as your number of prepared spells increases.

  2. Tactical Wit: Initiative bonuses are always great, and getting to go early means that you can quickly cast buff or control spells which will determine how the fight plays out.
  3. Power Surge: The damage isn’t great, and unless you’re facing a lot of enemy spellcasters it will be hard to charge your power surges. You could ask your allies to waste low-level spellS (ideally a cantrip with a non-instantaneous duraiton like Guidance or Shillelagh) so that you can dispel or counterspell them, but it’s probably not worth your spell slots do this in order to recharge your Power Surge pool.
  4. Durable Magic: If you’re not maintaining Concentration on a spell, you should be casting a spell that requires Concentration. There are too many good Concentration spells for you to not have one running. The bonus to saves notably applies to your save to maintain Concentration, and combined with Arcane Deflection you’re very effective at maintaining Concentration.

    If you’re worried about the cost to constantly cast and maintain Concentration, look at summoning spells. They typically have a 1-hour duration and many are very effective, so it’s easy to fit them into your tactics. Another useful option is running Enhance Ability (Dexterity) so that when combat starts you or another party member, or both if upcast, have Advantage on the Initiative check.

  5. Deflecting Shroud: You only get to use Arcane Deflection if you’re hit by an attack or if you fail a saving throw, but Deflecting Shroud works even if Arcane Deflection doesn’t negate the effect which triggered it, so you’re always guaranteed the damage.

    The damage from Deflecting Shroud isn’t great, but there’s no usage limitation and since it hits three targets at range it can easily out-damage cantrips. If you’re facing groups of weak enemies they might hit you sheerly by making a large number of attacks or by including you in an area damage effect, and this will allow you to thin their numbers without spending expensive spell slots.

    The damage also helps justify using Arcane Deflection at high levels by taking some of the sting out of giving up leveled spells for a turn. By this level your pool of spell slots is enormous, so limiting yourself to cantrips in many circumstances means that your turn is reduced to a tiny splash of damage where you could instead throw a leveled spell like Fireball or Chain Lightning.

    If you want to trigger this easily, there’s an ally can make an unarmed strike to hit you for 1+Strength damage to set this off, allowing you to get a bunch of extra damage before a turn where you may have already planned to cast a cantrip. If you don’t have an ally handy, keep an angry rat in a sack, stick your hand into the sack, and wait for the rat to bite you.

War Magic Tradition Ability Scores

Nothing too different from other Wizards.

Str: No muscles. War is not about muscles.

Dex: AC and Initiative. Yeah let’s get some of this.

Con: Let’s not drop our Concentration. Oh I guess having HP is nice too. But really that Concentration.

Int: Wizard.

Wis: Leftover points for saves go here.

Cha: Or here.

Point BuyStandard Array
Str88
Dex1513
Con1514
Int1515
Wis812
Cha810

War Magic Tradition Races

As always, we can take a look at the Wizard Races Breakdown.

  • HarengonMMoM: War Magic adds our Intelligence modifier to Initiative. Harengon adds our Proficiency bonus to Initiative. You wanna just always go first so you can drop the AoE shutdown flavor of the week?

War Magic Tradition Feats

Consult your Wizard Handbook for general feats of Wizardry.

  • AlertPHB: If you really want to double down on War Magic’s ability to just go first all the time, here you go.

War Magic Tradition Weapons

You’re a Wizard, you have cantrips.

War Magic Tradition Armor

Wizards aren’t proficient with armor.

War Magic Tradition Multiclassing

  • Artificer: War Magic has some nice AC and save bonuses, and if you take your first level as Artificer you’ll get Constitution save proficiency and Medium Armor.

Example War Magic Tradition Build – Trigger Discipline

War is my profession

War is my obsession

Nothing I like more than a violent intercession

Thundercleese

Abilities

We’re not much different from normal Wizards, except that we’re starting with one level of Artificer, so we still want to follow the suggestions in the ability section above. We’ll be Harengon and take the +1/+1/+1 in Dex, Con, and Int.

Point BuyIncreased
Str88
Dex1516
Con1516
Int1516
Wis88
Cha88

Race

We’re going to use the Harengon’s Hare Trigger trait to get the jump on Initiative.

Background

Because our background doesn’t matter, I’m making it Shipwright. If we take History from our class skills we can replace it with Acrobatics, and since we get Perception from Harengon, we can replace that with Stealth. We also get Carpenter’s Tools, Water Vehicles, and a fun little ability to repair boats at sea. This will be of great use in War.

Skills and Tools

From Harengon, we get Perception. From class skills (remember that we’re starting with a level of artificer) we get Investigation, History, Thieves’ Tools, Tinker Tools, and Calligrapher’s Supplies. From our Shipwright Background, we replace the duplicated skills with Acrobatics and Stealth and also gain Carpenter’s Tools and Water Vehicles.

Feats

We take one level in Artificer which delays our ASIs by one level.

Wizard Fourth: ASI +2 Intelligence

Wizard Eighth: ASI +2 Intelligence

Wizard Twelveth: Alert Feat. If you think this is overkill, you’re misunderstanding that we’re not here for the +5 Initiative but we’ll take that as a bonus. No, we’re here for the immunity to being surprised. Some people think they can go first all the time. Nah, that’s our job.

Wizard Sixteenth: ASI +2 Dexterity

Wizard Nineteenth: ASI +2 Dexterity

Levels

LevelsFeats and FeaturesNotes and Tactics
1-Artificer 1Medium Armor
Shields
Spellcasting
Magical Tinkering

Skills
-Acrobatics
-History
-Investigation
-Perception
-Stealth

Tools
-Calligrapher’s Supplies
-Carpenter’s Tools
-Thieves’ Tools
-Tinker’s Tools
-Vehicles (Water)
We start our Wizardly career as a scientist.
Doing crimes science.
War crimes Science.
In the Navy.

Get some Medium Armor to start, get a Shield, sling some cantrips, survive to level 2.

We’ll eventually have 20 Dexterity because we’re stacking Initiative to the moon, and at that point, studded leather and half-plate will have the same AC, but half-plate would impose Disadvantage on Stealth checks. However, at 20 Dexterity, the Mage Armor spell would give us 18 AC before adding a shield, beating both standard options unless either is +2 or better.

For the moment however, scale mail’s 14+2 beats studded leather’s 12+3.
2-Wizard 1Arcane Recovery

Spellcasting
1st level
-Find Familiar
-Fog Cloud
-Sleep-Any other 3
Now we’re a Wizard for real.
As for what spells to take, that’s the neat part of this build, you get to choose.

Really though, you know your party better than any guide will. You know what your party is missing. Just consult the spell breakdown list to avoid bad spells and you’ll do fine.

We will still make suggestions whenever we hit a new spell level. These suggestions assume we’re building a controller.

Arcane Recovery is a way to get some slots back on a short rest once per day. This will be useful for going a little further each day.

For 1st-level spells, Sleep is a perennial death sentence to several common foes and Find Familiar is too much utility to pass up. Fog Cloud is for those times where you win initiative but then too many foes get turns before your allies. Put the cloud on top of you and drop concentration when your allies’ turns start coming round.

Before you add anything to your spellbook, cross reference the Artificer list as you can freely prepare off that whole 1st-level list each day.
3-Wizard 2War Magic
Arcane Deflection
Tactical Wit
At this level, with Tactical Wit coming online, our Initiative modifier should be 3 from Dexterity, 3 from Intelligence, and 2 from Hare-Trigger for a total of +8 at this level. That’s already impressive and it’s just going to keep growing.

Arcane Deflection is like a mini-Shield spell that we’ll get plenty of use out of. The best way to use this is likely going to be adding the +4 to saves, especially Concentration saves.
4-Wizard 32nd level
-Enhance Ability
-Hold Person
-Web
I’m going to suggest adding Enhance Ability to the spellbook.
 
While it has plenty of utility, an interesting way to use this is to give ourselves the Cat’s Grace property when expecting combat. This will give us Advantage on Dexterity checks. Initiative is a Dexterity Check.

At this level I don’t recommend using it for that too often, instead waiting until you have the slots to spare or even upcasting to grant this same Advantage to your whole team.

Hold Person and Web are great control spells, either paralyzing those with weak wills or restraining a group of clumsy oafs.
5-Wizard 4ASI: Intelligence +2 (16=>18)Another Intelligence bump. This brings our Initiative up to +10. We should regularly be going first.
6-Wizard 53rd level
-Fireball
-Hypnotic Pattern
-Major Image
-Phantom Steed
While it’s generally better to spend magic disabling or hindering foes, sometimes you just need a pile of damage like Fireball.

Hypnotic Pattern on the other hand is great for splitting up a fight into smaller easy-to-fight chunks. Major Image has many imaginative uses to mess with foes like creating a fake danger zone to corral the fight.

Phantom Steed allows you to have a free mount if you ritual cast it, which you can do while riding a Phantom Steed. Importantly, because the steed fades over a minute when the spell ends, if it takes damage in combat it lasts for ten more rounds before it pops.
7-Wizard 6Power SurgeIt’s an ok bit of extra damage but the recharging mechanic is unreliable. If there’s not enough enemy casters or magical effects to dispel, it’s once per short rest. Might as well just use it when we can.
8-Wizard 74th level
-Phantasmal Killer
-Polymorph
-Sickening Radiance
-Wall of Fire
Phantasmal Killer is a great damage spell for tough foes with weaker minds.

Polymorph is so complicated it has a guide all to itself.

Sickening Radiance will always kill anything that fails 6 saves because of Exhaustion.

Wall of Fire is just a nice way to split up the room at the start of a fight.
9-Wizard 8ASI: Intelligence +2 (18=>20)Capped intelligence and another proficiency bump. This puts us at +12 Initiative. We might even want to start putting that Dexterity Advantage on allies instead because we’re already this far ahead.
10-Wizard 95th level
-Hold Monster
-Wall of Force
-Wall of Stone
Hold Monster is like Hold Person but for everybody. Except Undead.

Walls for Days. Having an assortment of wall spells is great because they each do something different. Wall of Force is more or less impenetrable, even to ethereal travel. Wall of Stone on the other hand becomes permanent if you keep Concentration for the ten minute duration.
11-Wizard 10Durable MagicNow this is just ridiculous. We were always going to have something to Concentrate on anyway, but now we get a +2 to AC and a +2 to saving throws. Concentration is a Saving throw. Thanks to proficiency in Constitution saves from that level of Artificer, we now have a +9 bonus to Concentration saves, and we can add another +4 with Arcane Deflection. With half plate and a shield, our AC is 21 and we can add +2 with Arcane Deflection.
12-Wizard 116th level
-Contingency
-Disintegrate
-True Seeing
Contingency. The guide linked here is a very good read about how to get the most from this spell.

That impenetrable forcefield we talked about last spell level is weak to Disintegration so it’s nice to have around in case we have to fight one of those.

True Seeing is just helpful all around.
13-Wizard 12Feat: AlertTaking Alert is just being abusive at this point. PB also increases at this level so that’s a +18 to Initiative.
14-Wizard 137th level
-Forcecage
-Reverse Gravity
Forcecage. Go first and cut every fight in half, go have lunch, and come back to finish off your foes.

Or just put things in the air for a bit. It’s rather silly.
15-Wizard 14Deflecting ShroudIt’s just adding free damage onto Arcane Deflection. But to use that we have to get hit or fail a save, and we keep winning the fights on round one so that’s not really going to happen.
16-Wizard 158th level
-Illusory Dragon
-Maze
Pretend Dragon. Real Breath Weapon.

Or just lock a target in a demiplane until they pass a DC 20 Intelligence check.
17-Wizard 16ASI: Dexterity +2 (16=>18)+20 Initiative.
18-Wizard 179th level
-Foresight
-Wish
I’m contractually obligated to recommend that spell.

However, because Wish is boring, cast Foresight instead. No no, not on us. We’re already incredibly likely to win every Initiative. Put it on whichever martial is your glass cannon or benefits the most from Advantage. Probably some flavor of elf.
19-Wizard 18Spell MasteryYou get to change this every day if you need to, but Shield and Enhance Ability are my choices for this build. Then you can freely keep Cat’s Grace up all day for permanent Advantage to Initiative checks while also satisfying the requirements of Durable Magic.
20-Wizard 19ASI: Dexterity +2 (18=>20)+21 Initiative. On a natural 1 you still beat most creatures in the Monster Manual.