Pathfinder - The Psychic Handbook
Last Updated: May 23, 2017
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.
The Psychic is the psychic equivalent of the Sorcerer. It casts spells spontaneously, but it's Intelligence-based like a wizard. The Psychic's spell list overlaps with the Sorcerer/Wizard spell list quite a bit, but isn't quite as large.
Like the Wizard, the Psychic can fill a variety of roles thanks to their expansive skills and spell list. No role except healer is beyond your reach, though the psychic excels as a Striker, Support, and a Utility Caster. Charisma-heavy psychics also make excellent Faces. However, the Psychic's spells focus much more heavily on mind-affecting effects. While many of these are powerful, this also comes with complications. Anything that is mindless or is resistant or immune to mind-affecting effects (constructs, undead, etc.) will be difficult for the Psychic to handle.
Psychic Class Features
Hit Points: d6 hit points leaves you pretty squishy, but you have a laundry list of defensive options to put in front of your hit points.
Base Attack Bonus: Fortunately, you'll almost never need to make an actual attack. Touch AC scales very little from level 1 to level 20, going from an average of 12.2 on CR 1 monsters to 16.4 on CR 20 monsters.
Saves: Your only good save is Will.
Proficiencies: Simple weapons are nice, but you're not going to use them. No armor, either, but you don't care about Arcane Spell Failure and armor check penalty barely matters.
Skills: Psychics only get 2+ skills, but you get every knowledge skill as a class skill plus every Face skill, and your absurd intelligence will give you plenty of skill points to throw around. Remember that permanently increasing your intelligence will give you additional skill points retroactively, which will be nice when you hit levels 8 and 16.
Spells: The Psychic is the only psychic spellcaster that gets full casting.
Knacks: Knacks are cantrips with a funny name. Just like cantrips, they're fantastic and extremely versatile.
Phrenic Pool (Su): Phrenic Pool powers your amplifications. You want your pool to be as big as possible, and you want to recharge it as quickly as you can after using points. The only use for your phrenic pool points is your phrenic amplifications, so be sure to select options which you can regularly depend upon. If you go an entire day without spending a phrenic pool point you're doing something wrong.
Phrenic Amplifications: A few of the phrenic amplifications are extremely powerful, but most are bad. The feature as a whole is fine, and you only get three amplifications before you get Major Amplifications, but there aren't enough good options to leave much room for customization. See my Phrenic Amplification Breakdown for further analysis.
Psychic Discipline (Ex or Sp): Your psychic discipline grants you an extra spell known at every spell level, a mechanism to add extra points to your Phrenic Pool throughout the day, and several special abilities. Unfortunately, very few of the discipline options are good. See my Psychic Disciplines Breakdown for further guidance.
Detect Thoughts (Sp): Detect thoughts is a situational spell, and situational spells are hard for spontaneous casters to use since you've got a limited selection of spells known. This gives it to you for free, and it doesn't use a spell slot the first time you use it each day.
Telepathic Bond (Sp): Telepathic bond is a fantastic spell that keeps your party in constant communication without giving yourselves away. If my party is trying to be subtle in any way, I try to make sure that someone in the party can cast this.
Major Amplifications: A significant improvement on the basic amplifications. See my Phrenic Amplification Breakdown for further analysis.
Telepathy (Su): Telepathy doesn't require a language, so if you picked up Face skills you can now communicate with any creature intelligent enough to speak a language.
Remade Self (Sp): All of the spell options are excellent, but at this level a 3rd-level spell isn't going to make a huge difference.
The Psychic is very MAD for a spellcaster. Their spellcasting is Intelligence-based, but depending on your Psychic Discipline you'll need either Wisdom or Charisma. You also need Dexterity and Constitution for AC, hp, and saves. That leaves you with just one dump stat compared to the Wizard's two.
Str: Dump to 7. You need the points.
Dex: Saves and AC.
Con: Saves and hp.
Int: Runs your spells.
Wis: If your discipline needs Wisdom, you want to invest here. If it doesn't, you still don't want to dump this because you need Will saves.
Cha: If your discipline uses Charisma, you get to be a Face. If it doesn't, dump this to 7.
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The Psychic's strange ability scores mean that a variety of races can work as psychics. However, your race's ability scores may make some disciplines more appealing than others.
Dwarf: Wisdom bonus works for some disciplines, and the bonus duration to abjuration spells from the favored class bonus is useful once it adds up a bit.
Elf: Dexterity for saves and AC, Intelligence for spells, +2 to overcome spell resistance that stacks with Spell Penetration. The Constitution penalty always hurts, but the Intelligence bonus is well worth it. The favored class bonus increases the size of your phrenic pool.
Gnome: Charisma works for some disciplines, bonus Constitution, a penalty to your dump stat, and small size. The favored class bonus increases the size of your phrenic pool.
Half-Elf: Flexible +2 goes into Intelligence. The favored class bonus is tempting, but it's hard to justify six levels of favored class bonus when there are already so few good amplification options.
Half-Orc: Flexible +2 goes into Intelligence. Unfortunately, that's the only good bit that half-orcs offer. The favored class bonus is terrible.
Halfling: Charisma works for some disciplines, Dexterity helps with AC and saves, and small size. The favored class bonus is really unique and exciting. Treating your Charisma bonus as higher allows you to recharge your phrenic pool more and use powerful discipline abilities more throughout the day.
Human: Flexible +2 in Intelligence, bonus skill ranks, and a feat. The favored class bonus gets you extra spells known, solving the largest problem for spontaneous casters. At low levels you won't be able to use the favored class bonus for anything interesting (ooh boy, more cantrips!) so put the points into your hit points or get some extra skill ranks to spread around your gigantic skill list. I rarely recommend this, but the Dual Talent alternate racial feature may worthwhile here if you don't need the extra feat.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bluff (Cha): Helpful for any Face.
- Diplomacy (Cha): The king of Face skills.
- Fly (Dex): One rank is plenty.
- Intimidate (Cha): Helpful for any Face.
- Knowledge (Arcana) (Int): Identify constructs, dragons, and magical beats. Fairly few classes get access to this, so you need to step up here.
- Knowledge (Dungeoneering) (Int): Identify aberrations 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): Situational, and very dependent on the campaign.
- 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): Situational, and very dependent on the 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.
- Perception (Wis): The most rolled skill in the game.
- Sense Motive (Wis): Helpful for any Face.
- Spellcraft (Int): Craft items and identify spells and magic effects. Max this every time.
Psychic feats are largely identical to Wizard feats, so I'll only cover Psychic-specific feats here. For further advice on feats, see my Wizard Handbook.
- Elongated Cranium: This is a weird feat. If you're not your party's Face, the Ovoid Compression option is great because it gets you +2 to all of your Intelligence-based skills (Knowledge, etc.). The once/day effects are neat, but not especially useful since they're once/day.
- Expanded Phrenic Pool: Phrenic pool is a great resource, but I would delay taking this until you have at least two amplifications so that you have good ways to consume the points.
- Extra Amplification: There aren't a lot of good amplification options, so if you spend a feat to get an extra you'll likely find yourself with at least one amplification that you'll neve3r use.
You don't need to worry about somatic components, so you're fine to carry around a weapon. You're going to be useless with it, but at least it won't get in your way.
- Dagger: Carry one or two for utility purposes, but don't plan to pull them out in combat.
- Crossbow, Light: Useful at low levels when you're low on spell slots.
Armor if weird for psychic spellcasters. You don't have Somatic components, so you don't need to worry about arcane spell failure. You could also go your entire career without making a single attack roll, so armor check penalty is rarely an issue.
- Leather: +2 AC, dirt cheap, no armor check penalty, and you don't care about the arcane spell failure so this is almost free AC.
- Darkwood Heavy Shield: +2 AC, no armor check penalty, and you don't care about the Arcane Spell Failure.
- Mithral Shirt: Whether or not you bother getting mithral is up to you. You don't care much about armor check penalty, so the extra 1000gp may not be worth the cost.
- Full Plate: You don't care about arcane spell failure, and the armor check penalty will probably never matter, so you could probably put on a suit of full plate with no proficiency and do just fine.
This section won't address every spell on your spell list, but it will point out some especially notable options. For a complete list of spells, see the SRD Spell Index.
- Daze: Save-or-suck as a cantrip, but it only works against humanoids. It's still a great option since 4 HD will get you a long way against humanoids.
- Prestidigitation: Least Wish. A must-have.
- Telekinetic Projectile: Your only damage-dealing cantrip. It uses a normal attack, so a light crossbow is strictly better.
- Virtue: At low levels 1 temporary hit point could save your life. Walk around your party constantly refreshing Virtue between encounters so that everyone in melee gets a nice bubble. Even as you advance levels, it may be worth the time to cast Virtue on your Defender if you have nothing better to do with your time.
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.
- 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.