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Pathfinder - Arcanist Archetypes Breakdown

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.

Temporary Note: Paizo has recently discontinued support of their official SRD. From this point forward SRD links on RPGBOT.net will instead link to d20PFSRD.com. While Archive of Nethys is now Paizo's officially licensed partner for the purposes of serving the Pathfinder SRD, Archive of Nethys is a horribly designed website and it simply doesn't match d20PFSRD's ability to keep pace with published content and d20PFSRD's search functionality.

If you encounter any links which still point to the old SRD, please email me so that I can correct them. I also recently added a page explaining my supported content which you may find helpful. --September 15, 2018

Archetypes

The Arcanist can fill any role that can be filled by a Sorcerer or Wizard. Arcanist Archetypes provide some interesting options to borrow flavor or mechanics from other classes, or to supplement and expand the Arcanist's existing abilities by emphasizing one mechanic.

Blade Adept

The Blade Adept attempts to fuse the Magus with the Arcanist. Adept Exploits give the Arcanist the ability to replicate some iconic Magus abilities like Spell Strike. The Arcanist has a few issues due to their 1/2 BAB and complete lack of armor, but access to a better spell list can make the Blade Adept an interesting option. Unfortunately, the archetype is riddled with problems. It's heavily dependent on exploits to catch up to the Magus's melee capacity, but gives up three of them, so you won't be able to duplicate the Magus' capabilities until you're in mid levels. If you want to play this style of character, the Magus is a much better option.

Sword Bond (Su): Normally you can enhance an Arcane Bond weapon, but at level 3 your bonded weapon turns into a Black Blade which you can't enhance. Effectively this is just a free spell slot of your highest spell level and proficiency with a martial weapon.

Sentient Sword (Su): The free enhancement bonus will save you a bit of gold, but you also can't enhance a black blade. Without the Magus' ability to enhance weapons on the fly, this can be a serious handicap. Make sure to pick up the Arcane Weapon exploit.

Adept Exploits: The Blade Adept gets a lot of great options, but because the archetype sacrifices 3 exploit slots, you'll have a lot of trouble getting everything you want quickly. You also want to pick up

  • Eldritch Blade: Only useful if you take the Magical Knack trait and multiclass. A dip into Swashbuckler or Fighter might be a good choice to compensate for the Arcanist's complete lack of martial abilities.
  • Magus Arcana: The Arcanist's Arcane Reservoir grows 4 times as fast as the Magus' Arcane Pool, which means that you can afford to dump points into the few Magus Arcana available to the Arcanist.
    • arcane accuracy: Fantastic for overcoming the Arcanist's relative lack of attack bonus.
    • close range: Opens up a lot of great options for Spell Strike, especially consider that the Arcanist gets access to the full Sorcerer/Wizard spell list.
    • critical strike: With a keen scimitar/rapier, you have a reasonably chance of scoring critical hits, and being able to cast an extra spell as a swift action means a lot of extra damage.
    • dispelling strike: More viable for the Arcanist than it is for the Magus.
    • hasted assault: Haste is one of the best buffs in the game, and with the Arcanist's Arcane Reservoir you can afford to keep this running almost constantly.
    • wand wielder: The Arcanist gets enough spells per day that you shouldn't need to rely on wands to fuel your Spell Combat.
  • Spell Strike (Su): The Arcanist gets much better spells than the Magus, and gets high level spells sooner. The Arcanist can't quite match the Magus' martial abilities because the Arcanist gets 1/2 BAB, but if you can overcome the BAB difference, the Arcanist can be very effective.
  • Student of the Blade (Ex): Some helpful options for overcoming the fact that Arcanists are not good with weapons. Also helpful if you plan to pick up Slashing Grace.
    • Arcane Strike: A little bit of extra damage is always nice, but with such poor BAB you won't get iterative attacks with which to apply the damage boost multiple times.
    • Weapon Finesse: With no armor or shield proficiency, you need a lot of Dexterity to give you some sort of AC. At that point, it makes sense to use Weapon Finesse.
    • Weapon Focus: A +1 bonus isn't huge, but it's required if you want to pick up Slashing Grace, and it will help compensate for your poor BAB.
  • Weapon Specialization (Ex): +2 damage is nice, but you should be relying on Spell Strike for damage. Plus, with 1/2 BAB you won't get the iterative attacks you need to make Weapon Specialization meaningful.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (1st, 3rd, 9th)

Compatible Archetypes: Unlettered Arcanist

Blood Arcanist

If you want the mechanics of an Arcanist with the flavor of a Sorcerer, the Blood Arcanist is the way to go.

Bloodline: Sorcerer bloodlines offer a lot of very interesting powers. For help selecting a bloodline, see my Sorcerer Bloodline Breakdown. Remember that Arcanists don't get the bonus feats, class skills, or spells known.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (1st, 3rd, 9th, 15th), Magical Supremacy

Compatible Archetypes: Unlettered Arcanist

Brown-Fur Transmuter

Polymorphing can be very powerful, especially if you build your character to be good at it. Read my Practical Guide to Polymorph for help with polymorphing.

Powerful Change (Su): Fantastic for a lot of spells. Bump Bull's Strength up to +6, improve the bonus provided by Alter Self, or give yourself some more Strength when you Polymorph.

Share Transmutation (Su): A lot of fantastic polymorph spells are limited to Personal range, and this allows you to share your best polymorph spells long before you can cast Shapechange.

Transmutation Supremacy (Su): Shapechange the whole party for 6 hours at a time, and you get an extra +4 to one of your abilities. This should turn your party into a horrific ball of polymorphing death trolls. And I do actually mean trolls. They have the best health regeneration available on the polymorph spell, so your party can just wade into scary fights without issue.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (3rd, 9th), Magical Supremacy

Compatible Archetypes: Unlettered Arcanist

Eldritch Font

Eldritch Surge is the key portion of the Eldritch Font. You can use it at most twice in a given encounter, and should generally only use it once unless you can spare an hour to rest after the fight. If you are good at ending encounters with one spell, Eldritch Surge can make you even better. Font of Power also gives you additional spell slots per day, though it limits the number of spells which you can prepare.

Font of Power: More spells per day, but less options.

Eldritch Surge (Su): This is great for your first save or suck spell in the encounter. Being fatigued means nearly nothing to the Arcanist.

Improved Surge (Su): Very few spells rely on attack rolls, and those that do are almost exclusively ranged touch attacks. Ranged touch attacks are ridiculously easy. Rerolling damage on spells is similarly useless because spells tend to skew very sharply toward their average damage as you roll more and more dice.

Greater Surge (Su): This is far better than adding 2 to the DC of a spell, and largely removes the possibility of natural 20's.

Bottomless Well: Massively improves the Arcanist's versatility and sustainability throughout the day.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (3rd, 7th, 13th), Magical Supremacy

Compatible Archetypes: Unlettered Arcanist

Elemental Master

The Elemental Master pre-selects many of the Arcanist's Exploits, and grants a free prepared spell per day. This isn't particularly powerful, but it isn't any worse than a vanilla Arcanist.

Elemental Focus (Su): An extra prepared spell of every level is fantastic for the Arcanist. Prohibiting another element is slightly annoying, but probably won't cause you problems.

Elemental Attack (Su): Each of these exploits is decent, and the damage scales well enough that it remains a decent option as you level. These attacks won't keep pace with your spells, but they're great when you're low on spell slots or to kill weak enemies.

Powerful Exploit (Su): This is an average of .5 extra damage per Arcanist level; hardly enough to mattter. Increasing your Elemental Attack range to 60 feet is the real draw.

Greater Elemental Attack (Su): The upgrades to your Elemental Attack provide excellent improvements to the existing ability.

Elemental Movement (Su): All of these movement types are useful, but the more useful the movement type, the worse the element on which it is based.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (1st, 3rd, 9th, 11th, 15th)

Compatible Archetypes: Unlettered Arcanist

Occultist

The Occultist adds some absolutely fantastic summoning abilities to the Arcanist.

Planar Spells: Planar Ally is a fantastic set of spells, and Plane Shift is great for traveling to interesting places.

Conjurer's Focus (Sp): Summon Monster is a fantastic set of spells, and the biggest limitation is the short duration. Increasing the duration to minutes per level hugely improves the spells usefulness. Allowing you to cast it by spending Arcane Reservoir points means that you can eat a spell of the same level and cast Summon Monster without bothering to prepare it.

Planar Contact (Sp): Both are useful Divinations, but Contact Other Plane is already on the Arcanist's spell list, and Augury is only a 2nd-level spell.

Perfect Summoner: Summon Monster IX has some truly amazing options, and you can keep them around permanently.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (1st, 7th), Magical Supremacy

Compatible Archetypes: Brown-Fur Transmuter, Unlettered Arcanist

School Savant

Want to use the Arcanist's mechanics with the flavor of a Wizard? This is the way to do it.

School Focus (Su): Wizard schools have a lot of fantastic abilities which work for the Arcanist just as well as they do for the Wizard. For help selecting a school, see my Wizard Schools Breakdown.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (1st, 3rd, 7th)

Compatible Archetypes: Unlettered Arcanist

Spell Specialist

If you like to cast the same spells over and over again, the Spell Specialist is the archetype for you. It doesn't add a ton of power, but it adds some nice effects to your favorite spells.

Signature Spells: If you have a favorite spell, you are going to prepare it every day anyway, so this costs essentially nothing, and provides some nice numeric bonuses. You can also add some situationally useful effects to modify your signature spells.

  • Dismiss (Su): Situational.
  • Spell Bender (Su): Bend your lightning bolts!
  • Spellwarp (Su): Very situational.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (1st, 7th, 13th, 19th)

Compatible Archetypes: Brown-Fur Transmuter, Unlettered Arcanist

Unlettered Arcanist

If you like the spellcasting mechanics of the Arcanist, but want to feel like a Witch, try the Unlettered Arcanist. The Unlettered Arcanist doesn't get the Witch's Patron, but gets a familiar and uses the Witch spell list in place of the Sorcerer/Wizard spell list.

Familiar: Familiars are fantastic, and considerably more useful than a spellbook.

Witch Spells: The Witch spell list is very interesting, and is a a very unique combination of arcane and divine spells.

Replaced Features: Spells

Compatible Archetypes:

White Mage

If you chose to play an Arcanist, you probably didn't do so with the intention of being a healer. The White Mage allows you to heal hit points, but doesn't give the Arcanist any way to address other ailments like disease or ability damage.

Spontaneous Healing (Su): Access to Cure spells allows the Arcanist to provide supplement healing abilities to the party. A White Mage still can't compete with the Cleric's ability to heal other ailments, but magical healing is always welcome. The ability to cast Breath of Life at 10th is absolutely fantastic.

Greater Exploit: One option, and it's bad.

  • Fast Healing (Su): In-combat healing is rarely viable; invest in a wand of Cure Light Wounds.

Replaced Features: Arcanist Exploits (1st, 9th)

Compatible Archetypes: Eldritch Font, Unlettered Arcanist