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Pathfinder - The Arcanist Handbook

Last Updated: May 18, 2017

Disclaimer

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.

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Introduction

The Arcanist is a fantastic new take of Arcane spellcasting. Arcanists prepare spells at the beginning of the day like a Wizard, then cast spells using daily slots like a Sorcerer. This makes the Arcanist versatile, powerful, and a great introduction for players who are new to spellcasting. Arcanist Exploits add a level of customization and introduce a lot of excellent options.

Keep in mind that Arcanists need both Intelligence and Charisma for their spells (for maximum spell level and bonus spells, and for spell DC, respectively), which makes them more MAD than a Wizard.

Arcanist Class Features

Hit Points: d6 hit points is the worst in the game, so don't go drawing fire.

Base Attack Bonus: 1/2 BAB. Fortunately, you won't need it.

Saves: Will is the Arcanist's only good save, and with no real dependency on any ability score which contributes to saving throws, Arcanists need to make a point to enhance their saves.

Proficiencies: No armor, but access to all simple weapons offers plenty of options.

Skills: Despite receiving only 2+ skill ranks, the Arcanist actually gets a lot of skills because of their dependency on Intelligence. Access to all Knowledge skills makes the Arcanist a good Librarian, and access to Use Magic Device opens up a lot of interesting options.

Spells: If you're familiar with 5th Edition DnD, this should look familiar. Arcanists have the most versatile parts of both prepared and spontaneous casting, but get new spell levels at the same rate as Sorcerers.

Spellbooks: Identical to the Wizard class feature.

Arcane Reservoir (Su): Even without exploits to use your Arcane Reservoir, the ability to boost your caster level or DC give you some fantastic options. Boost DCs for your save-or-suck spells, and boost caster level for damage spells or spells with short durations.

Arcanist Exploits: Arcanist Exploits add a lot of cool customization options to the Arcanist, and can really supplement the Arcanist's spellcasting. Some exploits rely on Charisma, but if you avoid them you can dump Charisma to 7 and not notice the difference. For help with Exploits, see my Arcanist Exploits Breakdown.

Cantrips: Cantrips are fantastic and versatile.

Consume Spells (Su): This is a fantastic way to make use of your large number of low level spell slots, and a great way to fuel your Arcane Reservoir. However, the limited uses per day means that you can't just grab a Ring of Wizardy I to turn your 1st-level spells into a reservoir source.

Greater Exploits: Greater Exploits often improve on regular Exploits, but unfortunately they aren't as impactful as regular Exploits.

Magical Supremacy (Su): Eat all of your low level spells and turn them into 9th-level spells with boosted caster level and DC. Go ruin someone's day.

Abilities

Like the Sorcerer and Wizard, the Arcanist is a primary caster, and is very SAD. Really all you need is Intelligence.

Str: Dump to 7.

Dex: Needed for saves and AC.

Con: Needed for saves and HP.

Int: All that you need to do your job.

Wis: Needed for saving throws, but Will is your good save, so don't worry about it too much.

Cha: Several Arcanist Exploits require Charisma, and Charisma determines any DCs for Arcanist Exploits. I still wouldn't put a ton of resources into this because the returns on your investment are small, but certainly don't dump it unless you plan to forgo Exploits which use Charisma.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 18
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 12
  • Int: 17
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 12
  • Int: 16
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 14
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 15
  • Wis: 10
  • Cha: 13

Races

A bonus to Intelligent is key, but bonuses to Charisma and defensive abilities are nice.

Dwarf: Nothing really useful to the Arcanist, and a penalty to Charisma, but Dwarfs are very durable. The favored class bonus makes the Dwarf very good at arcane barrier and arcane weapon, which can be great for a Blade Adept Arcanist.

Elf: Much like the Wizard, Elves are fantastic Arcanists. Their bonus to Intelligence and their racial abilities at least match whatever a Human could select. The Elf's favored class bonus allows you to increase the capacity of your Arcane Reservoir, which is nice if you want to walk into fights with a huge reservoir to draw on.

Gnome: The bonus to Charisma helps with Arcanist Exploits, but none of the Gnomes other abilities are particularly useful. The favored class bonus gets you a few more Arcane Reservoir points, but considering you can eat a 1st-level spell to get a single point, the most effect you can get from the Gnome's favored class bonus can be matched by 3 1st-level spells.

Half-Elf: Flexible ability bonus goes into Intelligence, and consider some alternate racial abilities. The favored class bonus is bad.

Half-Orc: Flexible ability bonus goes into Intelligence. Darkvision is always nice, but consider replacing the Half-Orc's other abilities. The favored class bonus is bad.

Halfling: The bonus to Charisma helps with Arcanist Exploits, and the Halfling is great if you want to be stealthy. The favored class bonus gets you some extra exploits, which is a great way to capitalize on the Charisma bonus.

Human: Always a fantastic option, Humans make great Arcanists. The favored class bonus is terrible (you can just buy spells to put in your spellbook), but don't let that dissuade you.

Traits

  • Deft Dodger (Combat): +1 to a weak save.
  • Reactionary (Combat): +2 initiative is huge. Combined with Improved Initiative you'll go first much more frequently.
  • Resilient (Combat): +1 to a weak save.
  • Arcane Temper (Magic): A bonus to initiative and a bonus to Concentration checks. If you already took a combat trait and didn't take Reactionary, this is a good option.
  • Hedge Magician (Magic): 5% may not seem like a lot, but it adds up very quickly. 5% of the crafting cost of a +1 weapon is enough to buy a 1st-level potion or two 1st-level scrolls.
  • Pragmatic Activator (Magic): Using Intelligence for Use Magic Device will get you a bigger bonus than magic it a class skill. Wizards have the best spell list in the game, but you don't get access to some useful options, especially divine spells.
  • Resilient Caster (Magic): Too situational.
  • Shrouded Casting (Magic): Buy a spell component pouch.
  • Volatile Conduit (Magic): 1d4 damage once per day is nothing.
  • Life of Toil (Social): +1 to a weak save.
  • Warrior of Old (Elf Racial): Identical to Reactionary.
  • Elven Reflexes (Half-Elf Racial): Identical to Reactionary.

Skills

With 2+int skill ranks, the Arcanist has lots of fantastic options.

  • Appraise (Int): Potentially worth a rank to appraise gems, but anything really worth appraising will require Spellcraft.
  • Fly (Dex): One rank is plenty.
  • Intimidate (Cha): See bluff.
  • Knowledge (Arcana) (Int): Identify constructrs, dragons, and magical beats. Fairly few classes get access to this, so you need to step up here.
  • Knowledge (Dungeoneering) (Int): Identify abberations and oozes. If you spend any time underground or in dungeons, this is worth maxing. Otherwise, spend one rank and ride your intelligence bonus.
  • Knowledge (Engineering) (Int): One rank maybe.
  • Knowledge (Geography) (Int): One rank maybe.
  • Knowledge (History) (Int): This may as well be Knowledge (Plot) in some campaigns. If anyone should know history, it's a wizard.
  • Knowledge (Local) (Int): Definitely worth a rank, maybe more if you don't have a rogue putting ranks in this.
  • Knowledge (Nature) (Int): Identify animals. Unless you have a druid or ranger, you may be the only one in the party with this skill.
  • Knowledge (Nobility) (Int): Sometimes you need to know who the king is. Definitely worth a rank, maybe more depending on your campaign.
  • Knowledge (Planes) (Int): Identify outsiders. Outsiders are diverse and strange, and knowing stuff about them will help your survival greatly.
  • Knowledge (Religion) (Int): Identify undead. More easily available than Knowledge (Arcana), but still very useful, especially since your cleric probably dumped intelligence.
  • Linguistics (Int): Cast Tongues.
  • Spellcraft (Int): Craft items and identify spells and magic effects. Max this every time.
  • Use Magic Device (Cha): You may not have dumped charisma, and this one of the most versatile skills in the game. But honestly, if you need to cast a divine spell, Dominate Person a cleric.

Feats

Arcanist feats are largely identical to Wizard feats, so I'll only cover Arcanist-specific feats here. For further advice on feats, see my Wizard Handbook.

  • Expanded Preparation: The fact that the spell slots gained don't change when you get new spell levels is stupid and pointless. I think the intent is that you don't take the feat once and ride it all the way to an extra 9th-level spell slot. Of course, that's easily circumvented by retraining the feat to take the same feat every 2 levels and change you spell slot selection. Discuss this with your DM; he may be nice enough to just let you advance the bonus spell slot.
  • Extra Arcanist Exploit: There aren't enough good exploits to justify spending a feat to get more.

Weapons

  • Light Crossbow: Nice at early levels when you have a very limited number of spells per day.

Armor

If you need AC, you're doing something wrong. Still, it doesn't hurt to get some cheap protection. Keep in mind that Mage Armor is generally your best bet when you need AC, but Mage Armor isn't always on.

  • 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.
    • Haramaki: +1 AC, no arcane spell failure, and at 5 gp you can afford it at first level.
    • Mithral Buckler: +1 AC, no arcane spell failure, and cheap to enhance.
    • Silken Ceremonial: +1 AC, 4 pounds, no ACP or spell failure. Plus, it's a sweet ceremonial robe. Haramaki is strictly better, but it's not a super cool robe.

    Magic Items

    Weapons

    • Wyroot (1,000/2,000/4,000): A Wyroot quarterstaff is a fantastic way to recharge your Arcane Pool. Use it to deal nonlethal damage to unconscious enemies and you can quickly recharge your arcane pool for free.

    Armor/Shields

    • Clawhand Shield (8,158 gp): This is a weird item. It's a bit more expensive than your typical +2 shield, so it may not be worth the cost compared to a mithral buckler. However, it allows you to perform somatic components with the hand holding the shield, which means that you can hold a weapon in your other hand without issue, and because it has no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure anyone can use it without issue. The ability to automatically damage enemies while in a grapple is a helpful deterrent for small or physical weak characters, but ion't go looking for excuses to use it.

    Staffs

    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.

    Permanent Spells

    • Reduce Person: Reducing your size offers several useful benefits. Dexterity improves your poor Reflex saves, you get a size bonus to AC, and you get a net +2 to your ranged touch attacks for great spells like Disintegrate. The Strength penalty doesn't matter. You could reduce your size to tiny if your race is normally small, and it still won't have a significant negative effect. Even if you like to use polymorph spells, this won't handicap you since most of your polymorph forms aren't humanoid and thus won't be affected by Reduce Person.