Pathfinder - Occultist Implement Schools Breakdown
Last Updated: December 6th, 2017
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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.
An occultist's choice of implements is the most important class decision that they make. Implements grant an item buff ("Resonant Power"), a base focus power, access to a unique list of focus powers, and a spell of every level which the occultist can cast. Occult Adventures presents 8 implement schools, and since Occultists get just 7 choices you will need to omit at least one, and you'll omit more of you choose to re-select the same implement school to get another set of spells from that school.
When selecting implement schools remember that the only focus powers you are forced to take are the "base" focus powers. It's perfectly fine to pick up a school for the resonant power, base focus power, and spells but never pick up any of the focus powers.
The specific implements for each implement school are intentionally not addressed below. The specific form of the implement generally doesn't matter. Each school allows enough options that you shouldn't have any conflicts. If your GM is a stickler, you can select the items that aren't normal equipment and just hang them all from your character's body on strings and walk around like a set of magical wind chimes.
As you might expect, Abjuration centers on defensive options. All of the powers presented by the Abjuration Implements School can generally be handled with other means, many of which are already easily accessible to the Occultist. However, some of the better options also trigger on an Immediate action, allowing you to call up defenses quickly without cutting into your turn significantly.
Resonant Power: Warding Talisman (Su): A resistance bonus is an absolute essential in Pathfinder. You want it to be as big as possible as quickly as possible. That said, it's also one of the cheaper bonuses to put on a magic item.
Base Focus Power: Mind Barrier (Sp): The swift action option is essentially useless unless you're taking ongoing damage or intend to walk into a damaging effect, but the immediate action option can prevent quite a bit of damage. The damage prevented scales with level, but the focus cost never increases so this ability remains useful as you gain levels. This really helps compensate for the Occultist's d8 hit dice.
Focus Powers: : A few decent defensive options, but nothing that you absolutely need.
- Aegis (Su): It's pretty rare that you need to switch out armor abilities, and armor/shield bonuses are among the least useful AC bonuses.
- Energy Shield (Sp): Activating this as a swift action means that you activate and re-activate it without meainingfully cutting into your turn. The ability to activate it as an immediate actions means that you can protect yourself from unexpected energy attacks and traps.
- Globe of Negation (Sp): This is a fantastic defensive option, but it's also situational. If you fight a lot of spellcasters you're a fool not to consider this.
- Loci Sentry (Sp): Very situational.
- Planar Ward (Sp): Situational. The Occultist's Magic Circles ability will generally be more effective, especially once you can create circles as a full round action.
- Unraveling (Sp): If no one else in your party can cast Dispel Magic, this is absolutely essential. The range is a bit of an issue, and you can't dispel multiple effects, but generally when you need dispel magic the most its to remove on specific, pesky effect. For just 1 focus point it's a good trade.
Extremely few useful options. For some reason the conjuration school tries to turn the Occultist into a healer, but it doesn't do a particularly good job.
Resonant Power: Casting Focus (Su): Occultists don't get many interesting Conjuration spells which can meaningfully benefit from this.
Base Focus Power: (Sp): Most of the time when people cast Summon Monster it's to get one creature, and the one-minute duration is great at levels 1 through 10. Unfortunately, the level of creatures you can summon doesn't scale at full speel. Wen you can pick up the Shadow Beasts power it will be immediately more useful and versatile.
Focus Powers: : Very few worthwile options.
- Conjure Implement (Sp): Very situational. If you're in a situation where you lost your implements you probably lose the one you need to use this.
- Flesh Mend (Sp): A great way to burn your remaining focus points at the end of the day, but during the day you're better off with a wand of cure light wounds.
- Mind Steed (Sp): Mount is on the occultist spell list, and reducing the effects duration to minutes pet level when you add flight makes this extremely frustrating.
- Psychic Fog (Sp): Fog Cloud is a great way to get out of a bad situation, but it's a 1st-level spell which you could easily produce with a scroll. The solid fog option is much better, especially since you can move through it freely since Occultists cast psychichs spells.
- Purge Corruption (Sp): Situational. Use the Heal skill and antitoxins for poisons, and for diseases you generally have time to go find a cleric.
- Side Step (Sp): Similar to dimension door as a move action, this is a fantastic way to get around in combat.
The Divination Implements School is insanely useful. It provides scouting, information gathering, a flexible check bonus from Sudden Insight, and access to special senses which normally require high-level spells to access.
Resonant Power: Third Eye (Su): The Perception bonus is a nice distraction, but the real value is the improved senses which you gain. The cost to get them is frustratingly high, but access to constant See Invisibility is a huge benefit, and Blindsense and Blindsight are extremely powerful.
Base Focus Power: Sudden Insight (Sp): An easily accessible scaling insight bonus on a wide variety of checks for just 1 focus. At low levels the bonus won't be significant, but as you increase in level the cost will become relatively cheap and the bonus will scale considerably.
Focus Powers: : A couple of really fantastic gems, but most of the options are redundant or too situational to justify.
- Danger Sight (Sp): If you also have the Abjuration Implements school, this will conflict somewhat with Mind Barrier. However, as you gain levels this may become a better option. Improving your AC may entirely negate a source of damage, while Mind Barrier may only reduce it. Danger Sight also provides a fantastic saving throw bonus which will be especially crucial at high levels when you're facing save-or-die effects.
- Future Gaze (Sp): Augury is a great spell, and I strongly encourage you to learn it as one of the spells you gain from selecting Divinaton Implements instead of taking this ability. Future Gaze allows you to spend your focus points instead of spell slots, and ignores the focus and material components, so it saves you a bit of gold. Of course, 25gp becomes neglibible very early in the game, and your focus points are far too valuable to waste on this ability. The effects never scale or improve, so this power will quickly become irrelevant.
- Mind Eye (Sp): At fine size, the eye is small enough to fly under doors, through keyholes, and possible through small cracks in walls and other barriers. Use the eye to safely scout potentially dangerous areas like dungeons. Be sure to invest enough focus in Third Eye to pick up at least Darkvision so that you can send the eye into dark places. This may not seem particularly exciting, but for a single point of focus and a few minute of concentration you can scout huge areas completely undetected. This is the equivalent of the Arcane Eye spell (if not a little better), a 4th-level spell and easily one of my favorite divination spells for how much information you can gather with a single casting. At just 1 point of focus per use it's a fantastic deal at any level.
- Object Seer (Sp): Situational, and overlaps quite a bit with the Object Reading ability which Occultists get for free.
- Powerful Connection (Su): Situational. Not many divinations require a saving throw from a potential target, and the ones which do don't get used a lot.
- Watchful Eye (Sp): Situational. Adventurers typically don't spend a lot of time staking out a location.
Enchantment provides some of the only save-or-suck options available to the Occultist, but many of the abilities have level requirements, so you may want to wait to pick up Enchantment until at least level 6.
Resonant Power: Glorious Presence (Su): The Occultist really isn't much of a Face. They get Diplomacy as a class skill, but not Bluff or Intimidate. You can pick up Bluff and Intimidate from traits, but there are better options for a class which depends so heavily on Intelligence. UMD is a tempting option with this bonus, but the Pragmatic Activator trait will likely produce better results. If you really need to get some diplomacy done, charge this up at the beginning of the day and pass it off to your party's Face.
Base Focus Power: Cloud Mind (Su): Most foes of your CR will have more hite dice than you have Occultist levels, so you won't get to stun foes often unless they're in an encounter featuring multiple enemies. Staggering a foe is nice, but only matters if they depend on full-round actions like full attack. The fact that targets become immune after being affected once is disappointing.
Focus Powers: :
- Blinding Pattern (Sp): Like Hold Monster, but the DC scales with your Occultist level. Hold Monster is one of the best single-target save or suck effects in the game, and even if you can only paralyze the creature for a round or two that's typically enough to win a fight outright. Absolutely worth the focus point cost.
- Forced Alliance (Sp): I'm on the fence on this one. If you call the creature to aid you directly, this is a lot like Dominate Monster. If you don't, it's Charm Monster with a really short duration. The phrase "aid you directly" is somewhat vague, and it's unclear if you can use this to force enemies to fight for you.
- Inspired Assauled (Sp): The bonus isn't great, and morale bonuses are easy to come by.
- Mental Discord (Sp): Very situational.
- Mind Slumber (Sp): This conflicts a bit with Blinding Pattern. Blinding Pattern is a better way to kill something, but since it allows saves every round the duration can expire very quickly. Mind Slumber will remove a creature from a fight much longer, which is great if you need to disable a foe which you can't immediately reach to coup de grace.
- Obey (Sp): Command is a 1st-level spell. You can do much better.
Occultists are not blasters by any means. Their offensive spell options are pitifully slim, and with only 2/3 spellcasting they don't get the high level spells that evokers need to remain viable in a game where dealing damage is already one of the least effective ways to play a spellcaster. Energy Ray looks tempting, but its damage is too poor to justify spending precious mental focus.
Resonant Power: Intense Focus (Su): The payoff isn't great, and Occultists have very few spells and focus powers which deal direct damage. Energy Ray will probably benefit most from investing in this ability.
Base Focus Power: Energy Ray (Sp): The damage isn't amazing and the range is dangerously short, but you can do this as often as you like which makes it pretty useful. This is the blunt hammer of Occultist powers, but when so many of your problems are nails it's nice to have a hammer handy.
Focus Powers: : There really isn't anything here that you need to get by.
- Energy Blast (Sp): Aside from the ability to change the energy type, this may actually be worse than fireball, which is on the Occultist spell list. The DC will scale (fireball won't), and the damage cap is 2d6 higher, but considering this costs 2 focus to cast, I really don't think that this is a good option.
- Energy Ward (Sp): Situational by design. Resistance to energy damage is a great option to have on hand, but with a rounds per level duration you're better off learning to cast Resist Energy. Totally redundant with Energy Shield and not nearly as good.
- Light Matrix (Sp): Magic light is really easy to get, and the blinding component's duration is pointlessly short. The most useful part of Light Matrix is that you can create the light hours ahead of time and direct it to attack using only your move action. Since move actions are generally only used for silly things like walking about aimlessly during a fight, this leaves your other actions open for things like killing the thing you just blinded.
- Radiance (Sp): The scaling spell level of the effect means that you will almost always be able to counteract magical darkness. The on-hit effect also creates a really convenient way to handle invisible creatures, and the +2 Circumstance bonus to hit the illuminated creature is nice. Unfortunately, with only a 1d4 round duration you'll need to capitalize on the effects very quickly.
- Shape Mastery (Su): Occultists are 2/3 casters, and with only a handful of AOE evocation spells you just don't have the spell options to make this worthwhile.
- Wall of Power (Sp): The damage isn't great, and it's not going to stop big high-level creatures, but it's fantastic against multiple opponents.
Most of the illusion implement school is worthless, but there are a few particularly exiting gems. Distortion is great at any level, and once you hit 9th level Shadow Beast is absolutely amazing.
Resonant Power: Distortion (Sp): Plenty of spellcasters go their entire lives without making a single attack, so you could in theory be permanently distorted/invisible. You can even use this while sleeping!
Base Focus Power: Minor Figment (Sp): Ghost Sound and Minor Image are both already on the Occultist spell list, and Ghost Sound is the only illusion cantrip available, so half of Minor Figment is already worthless. The 7th-level improvement doesn't help much.
Focus Powers: : Aside from Shadow Beast, everything on the Illusion Implements' list of powers can be replaced with a spell already available to the Occultist.
- Cloak Image (Sp): Situational, and Disguise Self is on the Occultist spell list.
- Color Beam (Sp): With a 1 round duration this isn't worth the cost even in those rare cases when you're fighting an enemy with less hit dice than you have class levels.
- Masquerade (Sp): Very situational, and Disguise Self covers most of the reasons why you would want this ability.
- Mirage (Sp): Situational, and Major Image is on the Occultist spell list.
- Shadow Beast (Sp): Wow, this one came out of nowhere. For 1 focus point you can replicate up to a 9th-level summon spell. The disbelief component is a bit of an issue, but even at 50% damage this is still an amazing ability.
- Unseen (Sp): Distortion is much more useful for you, and if you need to make allies invisible Invisibility is on the Occultists spell list.
The Necromany Implement School is good, but not amazing. Very few parts of the school are absolutely fantastic, but several of the options are certainly worth considering.
Resonant Power: Necromantic Focus (Su): People who like undead pets are inhibited by the limited number of hit dice worth of creatures they can control. Expanding this limit is fantastic. The ability to create additional undead is a nice added bonus. However, the Occultist is still only a 2/3 caster and Animate Dead is the only spell on your spell list which benefits from these bonuses. Either pass this off to a real necromancer, or get real comfortable dragging zombies around.
Base Focus Power: Mind Fear (Sp): Most enemies will have more hite dice than you have levels. Shaken is a fine condition since it debuffs creatures in so many ways, but the duration is pitiful.
Focus Powers: : Several of the necromancy powers are worthwhile, and Necromantic Servant is easily one of my favorite undead pet mechanics.
- Flesh Rot (Sp): A melee touch attack is probably not something you want to do often, and the damage isn't especially good considering you need to spend a focus point to use this. However, the ability does typeless damage which is either amazing or an error.
- Necromantic Servant (Sp): This ability is a bit complicated, but it's also really good. The undead you raise "from the ground" seems to come out of nowhere, so no messing around with wagons full of corpses. It's unclear if the creatures use the equipment listed in the bestiary (namely the skeleton's broken scimitar and rust chain shirt), but I would assume that they use an unmodified version of the original stat block, and that they likely don't have any meaningful proficiencies for you to abuse. Check with your GM to be sure, because handing your skeleton a real scimitar and suit of cheap armor may be a good idea since you've got enough time to do so. The 10 minutes/level duration is enough to get through a lot of stuff, especially if you spend the extra focus to recharge your servant when it dies. Adding templates adds quite a bit of extra power to your servant, and the ability to split your servant and use teamwork feats at high levels allows you to do some really silly things. It seems that you can pick a new teamwork feat every time you create a new servant, so be sure to check out my Practical Guide to Teamwork Feats.
- Skeleton: The choice between a human skeleton and human zombie is largely personal preference. The zombie is technically a higher CR, especially if you remove the skeleton's armor, but if you throw items onto your servant, the skeleton may be better.
- Zombie: If your GM makes the skeleton spawn with none of the gear mentioned in the Bestiary and doesn't give either any weapon/armor proficiencies, the zombie is almsot certainly a better option. However, the zombie's Staggered quality can be an annoying limiting factor when you need a pet that can chase foes around in an encounter.
- Bloody Skeleton: Your servant doesn't change its effective number of hit dice, so it only gets one point of fast healing, and the +4 channel resistance won't be enough to fix the fact that your servant still only has 1 hit die. The bloody skeleton also doesn't add any offensive options, so it's not meaningfull better than the basic skeleton most of the time.
- Burning Skeleton: Easily the best option, if only for the guaranteed damage from Fiery Aura. When you get the ability to split your servants, each split generates another source of guaranteed ongoing damage. Bury encounters in piles of burning skeletons and laugh gleefully from the other side of the room as you burn through everything in your path.
- Fast Zombie: Though not as lethal as the burning skeleton's guaranteed fire damage, the fast zombie is a good fallback against foes which are immune to fire or which deal cold damage. The fast zombie double's the base damage of the normal zombie, and removes the Staggered issue, allowing the zombie to move and attack better.
- Pain Wave (Sp): Sickened is a really good debuff, on par with Shaken. Use this ability to weaken enemies' saves before you hit them with something more lethal the following round. Even if the effect only lasts one round, you still get to take advantage of their -2 penalty to saving throws.
- Psychic Curse (Sp): Too situational and unpredictable.
- Soulbound Puppet (Su): Familiars can be very powerful if you choose a good familiar, and the ability to switch familiars easily certainly offers some options. Be sure to read my Practical Guide to Familiars for help selecting a few favorite options.
- Spirit Shroud (Su): Temporary hit points are always nice, but you may get more effect out of Warding Talisman and Mind Barrier.
Several great options, especially if you have avid weapon users in the party.
Resonant Power: Physical Enhancement (Su): If you don't plan to go into melee, put this on one of your party members. It's especially useful at low and middle levels before your allies can afford belts which improve two or three ability scores. Or if you don't need to do so you can always boost your Dexterity or Constitution to better defend yourself.
Base Focus Power: Legacy Weapon (Su): The fact that the enhancement bonus stacks with existing enhancement bonuses is amazing, and you get to swap some of the granted enhancement bonus for special abilities. Use this to add enhancements which aren't always applicable like energy damage, aligned abilities like Holy, and situational options like Bane. Many other classes get similar options (Paladins, Magi, etc.), but generally abilities like Holy cost disproportionaly more to use than less situational abilities, and Bane is generally just not an option. This is an important limiting factor on those abilities, and the fact that Occultists don't have that same limitation is surprising. Note that this ability isn't limited to a weapon you are holding or which is carrying your focus, so you can grant this to one or more of your allies if you so choose.
Focus Powers: : Half of the options are too redundant or situational to justify, but the good options are certainly worth considering.
- Mind Over Gravity (Sp): A standard action to gain flight for one minute isn't great, but flight is still amazingly useful.
- Philosopher's Touch (Su): Using this on a single weapon becomes redundant with Legacy Weapon as you gain the ability to grant better enhancement bonuses (remember that having a sufficiently high enhancement bonus can overcome material-based DR), but the ability to apply it to multiple weapons may be useful in a party with lots of weapon-wielders.
- Quickness (Sp): Haste is an amzing buff, but it's already on the Occultist spell list. and Quickness only affects one creature, and Haste affects multiple.
- Size Alteration (Sp): Changing a creatures size can be a minor buff/debuff but the duration is too short ot be meaningful on allies and if you're going in for a melee touch attack you should be doing something more impressive than this.
- Sudden Speed (Sp): Too situational.
- Tekekinetic Mastery (Sp): Telekinesis is fantastic and extremely versatile.