Pathfinder - The Shaman Handbook
Last Updated: October 15, 2018
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 Shaman is a divine spellcaster, and can work as a Blaster (depending on your choice of Spirit), Healer, and Support. The Shaman is slightly less durable than the Oracle due to lack of shield proficiency, and isn't particularly suited to melee combat.
Shaman Class Features
Hit Points: d8 hit points makes you durable for a primary caster, but don't go drawing fire.
Base Attack Bonus: 2/3 BAB, but Shamans are full casters, so you really don't need it.
Saves: Will is the Shaman's only good save, and with a dependency on Wisdom for spells, a Shaman should have excellent Will saves. Be sure to put resources into Dexterity and Constitution to boost the Shaman's poor saves.
Proficiencies: Simple weapons give you plenty of options to supplement your spells, and medium armor will give you a decent AC. Unfortunately, the Shaman doesn't get proficiency with shields. Because the Shaman's AC won't be great, expect to spend most of your time fighting at range.
Skills: 4+ skill ranks and a few good options. Four ranks will cover all of the Shaman's Knowledge skills, plus Heal.
Spells: Works just like a Cleric, but with a different spell list. Access to your full spell list without needing to actually learn spells makes the Shaman very versatile, and gives you a lot of really great options.
Orisons: Orisons are fantastic, reliable, and versatile.
Spirit (Su): The Shaman's Spirit defines the Shaman's character theme, and offers a collection of interesting abilities and unique hexes. For help selecting your Spirit, see my Shaman Spirit Breakdown
Spirit Animal (Ex): The Spirit Animal is a familiar, but it can also deliver hex spells which work as a touch attack. Your Spirit will give your familiar a buff of some sort, but very few of them provide a meaningful improvement over how useful a familiar is on its own.
Spirit Magic: Much like Cleric Domain spells, this adds an extra spell slot per day, but with very limited options. Be sure to consider your Spirits' spell lists when selecting your primary Spirit and your Wandering Spirit.
Hex: Hexes are fantastic, and Shamans get their own list, plus access to the entire list of Witch Hexes. This offers an enormous set of great options. For help selecting Hexes, see my Shaman Hex Breakdown.
Wandering Spirit (Su): Adds quite a bit of versatility to the Shaman, and allows you to select a Spirit for its Spirit Animal and Hexes, then switch to another for its abilities and spell list.
Wandering Hex: Get a free Hex that you can change every day from your Wandering Spirit.
Manifestation (Su): Varies.
The Shaman is a straight caster, and doesn't have the melee capacity of a Cleric, which makes Shamans very SAD.
Str: Dump to 7 unless you want to carry a spear or something.
Dex: Needed for saves and AC.
Con: Needed for saves and HP.
Int: Only needed for skill ranks, but I wouldn't drop below 10 unless you're Human.
Wis: Your spellcasting stat.
Cha: Required for several Spirit abilities.
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Because the Shaman is a primary caster, Wisdom is essential. Other abilities are negotiable.
Dwarf: The bonus to Wisdom and all of the Dwarf's racial defense are great. The Charisma penalty can be annoying for some Spirit abilities, but it's not likely to break your build. The Dwarf favored class bonus gives your Spirit Animal some extra natural armor, but because the Spirit Animal is a familiar, it generally shouldn't be somewhere which might involve being attacked.
Elf: Despite the decent spellcasting abilities, the Elf has very little to offer the Shaman.
Gnome: Small size helps with Shaman's mediocre AC, the bonus to Charisma helps with some Spirit abilities, and the Gnome's favored class bonus grants extra Hexes.
Half-Elf: The flexible ability bonus is nice, and you can find a way to make use of the Half-Elf's other racial abilities by using some alternate racial abilities. The biggest draw is the Half-Elf favored class bonus, which allows you to learn spells not normally available to the Shaman. This opens up a lot of fantastic options.
Half-Orc: Just as good as the Half-Elf, but you get Darkvision by default and different racial bonuses.
Halfling: Similar to the Gnome, but the Halfling favored class bonus makes your Spirit Animal better. Unfortunately, the favored class bonus doesn't specify what happens when your effective level exceeds 20, so it's likely that your favored class bonuses will be wasted at high levels.
Human: As usual, humans are fantastic at everything. The Human favored class bonus is the same as the Half-Elf and Half-Orc, allowing you to learn Cleric spells which aren't normally available to the Shaman.
- Diplomacy (Cha): Your only social skill. Shamans don't need Charisma for anything, so you probably won't be good at this.
- Fly (Dex): One rank is plenty.
- Handle Animal (Cha): Without an Animal Companion or Mount, this is largely pointless.
- Heal (Wis): With high Wisdom, Shamans can be excellent at Heal, and Heal is fantastic supplement to your magical healing. Don't put in too many ranks: You need to hit a total +24 modifier to guarantee the best result from the Treat Deadly Wounds option, and you get your Wisdom modifier, +2 from a healer's kit, another +1 from surgeon's tools, and you can get Healer's Gloves for 2,500gp for another +5.
- Knowledge (nature) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills in the game.
- Knowledge (planes) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills in the game.
- Knowledge (religion) (Int): One of the most important Knowledge skills in the game.
- Ride (Dex): Without an Animal Companion or Mount, this is largely pointless.
- Spellcraft (Int): Great for identifying spells and magic items, but don't go too crazy with it because your Intelligence can't keep up with a Wizard.
- Survival (Wis): Situational.
- Light Crossbow: Decent ranged damage.
- Longspear: The only simple weapon with reach.
- Morningstar: Your best bet if you don't want reach.
- Hide: Your starting armor
- Breastplate: Your armor of choice.
- Masterwork Buckler: No check penalty, and it doesn't take up a hand. For 165 gold, the Mithral Buckler is one of the cheapest AC bonuses in the game, and it's easy to enhance.
- 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.
- 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.
- Natural Attunement (Kami): Adds a number of useful summon options, including high-level healing options to address gaps in the Druid's spell list. For more information, see my Practical Guide to Summon Nature's Ally
- Rod of Abrupt Hexes: Expensive, but very powerful. Hit an enemy with Misfortune as a swift action then follow up with either Slumber or a save-or-suck spell.
- Rod of Grasping Hexes: Evil Eye, Misfortune, and Slumber all have limited ranges.
- Rod of Interminable Hexes: Use Cackle. Don't have Cackle? Get a Cackling Hag's Blouse. This would be useful if it applied to greater or advanced hexes, but limiting it to basic hexes renders it useless.
- Rod of Potent Hexes: There is exactly one Hex to which this applies: Healing. Do you really want to spend 54,000gp to double the effect of Cure Moderate Wounds?
- Rod of Voracious Hexes: Double your save-or-suck hexes.
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.
Multiclassing and Prestige Classes
The Shaman is a full caster, so multiclassing is rarely a good option unless you have a very specific build in mind.