Pathfinder - Practical Guide to Channel Energy
Last Updated: October 15th, 2018
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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.
Channel Energy is Pathfinder's version of the "Turn Undead" from 3.5. Late in the days of 3.5 WotC finally figured out that Channel Energy was situational, hard to use, required constantly referencing a table, and was so ineffective that many players preferred to ignore it rather than the take the time to learn how to use use Turn Undead. To address this, many 3.5 supplements include "Turning Feats" which allowed Clerics, Paladins, and other characters to use their daily Turn Undead uses to produce other effects, such as energy resistance, bonuses to saves, or healing.
The folks at Paizo learned from these events, and Channel Energy is instead an AOE burst of positive or negative energy. This serves as both an AOE heal and as an AOE blast which targets undead. With a little bit of optimization, Channel Energy can be turned into a powerful addition to your character's other abilities.
The first step in using Channel Energy is to select a class. Several classes and archetypes provide access to Channel Energy in one form or another. Remember that Channel Energy depends on Charisma for its DC, and often for its uses per day, so classes which already depend on Charisma are generally your best bet.
Cleric: The iconic Channel Energy user, Clerics get Channel Energy at first level, but most can't afford to devote enough Charisma to be truly skilled with it. Clerics get 3+Charisma uses per day.
Cleric (Merciful Healer): The Merciful Healer gives up the ability to channel negative energy or to use Channel Energy to harm undead for the ability to remove status conditions when channeling.
Oracle (Life Mystery): The Life Mystery Oracle only gets 1+Charisma uses per day of Channel Energy, but with enough Charisma to be a full caster, this should be plenty to beat Clerics and likely enough to beet Paladins at any given level. The Oracle's DC is also going to be higher than that of a Cleric or Paladin because of their emphasis on Charisma.
Paladin: Though Channel Positive Energy uses two charges of the Paladin's Lay On Hands ability, a Paladin will generally have more Charisma than a Cleric, and by level 12 can get 3+Charisma uses per day. Because they depend on Charisma more, a Paladin's DC will likely be higher than a Cleric's.
Paladin (Hospitaler): The Hospitaler gives the Paladin a base 3+Charisma uses per day of Channel Energy, but adds a -3 level penalty to your effective Cleric level, handicapping your damage.
Paladin (Sacred Servant): In addition to the Paladin's already fantastic ability to Channel Energy, the Sacred Servant can enhance their holy symbol with abilities which buff Channel Energy.
Warpriest: The Warpriest can use Channel Energy, but gets reduced healing/damage. Fortunately, the Channeled Blessing feat adds a cool new way for the Wapriest to buff allies.
Witch (Hex Channeler): An awful waste of the Witch's Hex slots.
Wizard (Necromancy School): Access to Command or Turn Undead, two of the least interesting uses for Channel Energy, and you can't change the usage with feats.
That's right, there's a prestige class that likes Channel Energy!
Sacred Vindicator: Full BAB, full Channel Energy advancement, partial spellcasting advancement, and a couple of fun new ways to use Channel Energy. Vindicator's Shield is a huge AC buff, and even though it works through your shield (by the way, you need to be holding a shield) it's a Sacred/Profane bonus to AC so it works for your flat-footed AC and touch AC. It goes away if you're hit, but with this and a couple of other defensive options (full plate a shield and a spell or two) you'll be so hard to hit that it won't matter. Now, the class is not without problems. The big focus in the class is on the Stigmata ability. It's neat, but self-inflicted bleed means that when you turn it on you have a timer measured by your hit points. Expect to spend a lot of time recovering hit points after a fight if you go beyond first level. Of course, Vindicator's Shield might be worth a single-level dip, even though the feat prerequisite for the class isn't fantastic.
- Alignment Channel: Situational. Usually you can just use positive or negative energy to affect these creatures, so Versatile Channeling is more useful.
- Channeled Blessing: Potentially a good way to deliver Warpriest Blessings.
- Channeled Shield Wall: A Ring of Protection +2 is only 8,000gp.
- Channeling Force: Most classes with access to Channel Energy don't get access to force spells. If you can find some, the damage is decent, but not spectacular.
- Channeled Revival: Breath of Life is fantastic, but must be applied within 1 round of the creature's death. Because Channeled Revival requires a full round action to use, you need to be nearly adjacent to the target when they die, find a way to deliver the spell at range, or find some other clever way to close the distance like having an ally Bull Rush you.
- Channeling Scourge: Inquisitors don't get Channel Energy, but a one level dip into Cleric or Oracle can get you 3+ or 1+ users per day, and this feat allows your damage and DC to continue scaling as you level in Inquisitor.
- Channeled Shield Wall: Clerics have plenty of ways to get Deflection bonuses to AC, but none of them are swift actions with minutes/level durations. If you're using a shield, this is a fantastic and reliable way to use your Channel Energy uses.
- Channel Smite: Fantastic if you channel negative energy, but positive energy channelers won't see a lot of use because it only works against undead.
- Greater Channel Smite: The best use of this ability would be to pool all of the dice on your best attack, which totally defeats the purpose of the feat.
- Command Undead: Essential for undead-themed characters such as Necromancers.
- Elemental Channel: Situational. Usually you can just use positive or negative energy to affect these creatures, so Versatile Channeling is more useful.
- Energy Channel: More reliable and easier to use than Channeling Force, and twice as much damage.
- Extra Channel: If you want to be good at Channel Energy, you want to be able to do it a lot.
- Improved Channel: If you use Channel Energy offensively, this is a must.
- Life Lure: Very situational, and not very good.
- Quick Channel: Burns through your Channel Energy uses very quickly, but channeling as a swift action opens up a lot of options. If you only take one Channel Energy feat, make it this one.
- Reactive Healing: This will absolutely save your life, especially if there isn't anyone else in the party who can cast Breath of Life.
- Selective Channeling: Essential if you plan to use Channel Energy offensively.
- Contingent Channeling: Give your allies the same protection that you get from Selective Channeling. Only available to Merciful Healer Clerics.
- Versatile Channeler: Greatly improves your versatility when channeling.
The "Sacred Conduit" feat is basically required for any Channel Energy build. +1 to the DC is fantastic, and it's the only trait that does anything for Channel Energy.
- Exclusionary Weapon: Inexpensive, but also very situational. Potentially useful for clerics and oracles who like to use switch channeling while swinging a weapon.
- Phylactery of Negative/Positive Energy Channeling: +2d6 to your turn damage/healing. Separate items for each energy type, so if you have Versatile Channeler you need to pick your favorite (picking your weaker energy type will balance them out, or your can focus on your primary energy type). Unfortunately this is a headband slot item, so it will conflict with your mental ability score item, and a Headband of Alluring Charisma is probably a better option.
- Mail of Malevolence: Very expensive, but a great way for an evil Channel Energy user to tank a group of foes and kill them at the same time.