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Pathfinder - The Wizard Handbook

Last Updated: October 15, 2018

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.

Introduction

The Wizard sits at the top of the class tier list. With many of the best spells in the game and a practically limitless list of spells known, you can be and do most anything in the game. On top of your spells, you get several potent class features and a few bonus feats which can expand you're already stunning capabilities.

Wizard 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 11.6 on CR 1 monsters to 12.7 on CR 20 monsters.

Saves: Your only good save is Will, but because Wizards only "need" one ability, you can afford to invest some of your ability score points in Dexterity and Constitution.

Proficiencies: Wizards get very little in the way of proficiencies, but beyond very early levels you won't need them. A light crossbow is an excellent backup weapon for a Wizard, but you'll be more reliable relying on touch attack cantrips. No armor, either, but a mithral buckler and a haramaki will be plenty alongside your magical defenses.

Skills: Wizards only get 2+ skills, but you get every knowledge skill as a class 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.

Arcane Bond (Ex or Sp): You have the option of a familiar or a bonded item, and both options have their merits.

  • Familiar: Always a solid choice, the familiar is an ever-present and ever-useful companion. Familiars can serve as scouts, assassins, couriers, assistants, and even meat shields in a pinch. Their passive bonuses to the wizard are roughly equal to a feat, and the provide the benefits of Alertness when they are adjacent. Effectively, a familiar gives you two feats and a cool pet. For help with familairs, see my Practical Guide to Familiars.
  • amulet: Jewelry is nice an safe. It doesn't take up a hand, it's hard to take from you in combat, and it's a good option for enchanting.
  • ring: The ring is really the gold standard of bonded items. It's incredibly small, it's easy to hide under a glove or on your person, it's a very difficult target for sundering, and you can enchant is as per Enchant Ring without the feat. Magic rings have a lot of great options, but Enchant Ring is rarely worth the feat, so this gives you some options to save some money.
  • staff: If you like to use magic Staves, staff might be a good option. If you only want one magic staff, this will save you a feat. If you don't enjoy magic staves, you have a big, obvious stick which people can either take from you or destroy.
  • wand: Wands are generally only good for low level spells which you plan to cast frequently, like Cure Light Wounds. Wizards have very few options which can justify being on a wand, and a wand is very easy to disarm/steal/sunder.
  • weapon: A wizard should know better. You should never be using a weapon enough to justify actually carrying it around.

Arcane School: Arcane School really defines how your wizard will be played, and every option has something great to offer. For information on specific schools, see the Wizard School Breakdown.

Cantrips: Fantastic and versatile.

Scribe Scroll: Scrolls are great for wizards, and giving you the feat for free is nice. Use it to prepare scrolls of spells that you need infrequently so that you can cover all of your bases.

Bonus Feats: 4 extra feats over the course of 20 levels isn't game-breaking, but the Wizard would still be king if he didn't get any of these. The addition of Arcane Discoveries gives wizards a handful of unique and incredibly powerful options in place of metamagic and item crafting feats.

Spells: Wizards have the best spell list in the game, and every new book makes it better. Spells are why you play a Wizard.

Abilities

Intelligence is everything. Saves are a secondary concern.

Str: Dump to 7. Make the Fighter do the lifting.

Dex: Important for saves, and for the occasional touch attack.

Con: Your hit points are garbage, and Fortitude saves will be a problem for you.

Int: You get magic, skills, and a bonus to knowledge skills (which you will have a ton of). Max at start, boost early, boost often.

Wis: You get high Will saves, but with no other real ability dependencies, bumping Wisdom to at least 12 for additional saves is wise.

Cha: dump to 7 and keep your mouth shut until its time to throw some spells around or spout some knowledge..

In addition to normal ability considerations, Wizards can also make excellent use of the aging rules. Being middle-aged gives you a -1 penalty to your physical abilities, but gets you a pleasant +1 to your mental ability scores. However, this can be a problem for your already low reflex and fortitude saves.

25 Point Buy 20 Point Buy 15 Point Buy Elite Array
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 18
  • Wis: 14
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 14
  • Int: 18
  • Wis: 11
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 7
  • Dex: 12
  • Con: 12
  • Int: 18
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 7
  • Str: 8
  • Dex: 14
  • Con: 13
  • Int: 15
  • Wis: 12
  • Cha: 10

Races

Bonuses to Intelligence are key, and other bonuses to spellcasting are nice.

Dwarf: Dwarves are an interesting choice for wizards. Bonus Constitution and Wisdom make them very durable, a +2 on saves against spells is fantastic, and Darkvision is always helpful until you cast the spell. However, they don't bring anything specifically useful to Wizards offensively.

Elf: Bonus intelligence is great, and the bonus to dexterity and penalty to constitution are roughly equal for our purposes. The +2 bonus to penetrate spell resistance is equivalent to (and stacks with) Spell Penetration. The other benefits are highly situational, but certainly welcome. Since you're dumping strength, don't make the mistake of trying to use a bow.

Gnome: Despite their lack of intelligence bonus, Gnomes make good Illusionists due to their racial abilities. Being small is also nice.

Half-Elf: The flexible ability bonus goes right into Intelligence, but that's really all you get. You won't be multiclassing, and skill focus won't really matter to you. Some of the Half-Elf's alternate racial traits help a bit, but they don't offer anything particularly helpful for a Wizard. Humans are strictly better.

Half-Orc: Ability bonus to intelligence. If you want to be a face, that +2 to intimidate might be nice, and Darkvision is still fantastic, but Half-Orcs don't bring anything else of interest.

Halfling: Bonus to dexterity helps with a bad save, and the +1 racial bonus to all saves is nice, but that's really all we get from Halflings.

Human: What's that you say? A bonus to intelligence? Madness. The bonus feat is great on literally any character, and the bonus skill points don't hurt our already impressive pool of skill points.

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

  • Appraise (Int): Too situational.
  • Fly (Dex): One rank is plenty.
  • 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.
  • Spellcraft (Int): Craft items and identify spells and magic effects. Max this every time.

Feats

Wizards certainly aren't feat starved, which leaves a lot of room for dipping into metamagic, item crafting, and other fun things. This section does not cover metamagic feats or item creation feats. For help with metamagic feats, see my Practical Guide to Metamagic.

  • Combat Casting: A +4 bonus to your concentration checks when casting defensively is tempting, but you should not be casting defensively often enough to justify spending a feat on it. Optimizing Concentration is very easy, and you can do it with traits and items instead of wasting a feat.
  • Eschew Materials: Not a lot of spells have material components which are covered by this feat, and you can buy a spell component pouch for the rest.
  • Improved Familiar: If you take a familiar, Improved Familiar can get you some interesting options. For help with familairs, see my Practical Guide to Familiars.
  • Improved Initiative: Go first, and get control of the combat early.
  • Spell Focus: If you picked a specific school, this is essential. If you're a Universalist, you may want to take this more than once or not at all.
    • Greater Spell Focus: Another +1 to your DCs means you are 5% better at every spell you cast from that school.
  • Spell Penetration: Late in the game a lot of monsters will have Spell Resistance. You will need this feat at some point.
    • Greater Spell Penetration: Spell Penetration is likely plenty, but another +2 never hurts if you have a free feat.
  • Spell Perfection: Fantastically powerful, but it tends to make you pigeon-hole yourself.

Arcane Discoveries

Wizards can take an Arcane Discovery in place of a regular feat or Wizard bonus feat.

Arcane Builder: Crafting high level items takes an insanely long amount of time. If this is a problem, grab this discovery.

Fast Study: If time to prepare your spells is frequently a problem, something is very seriously wrong in your campaign.

Feral Speech (Su): Why would a wizard ever want to talk to an animal when he can summon demons?

Golem Constructor: Why have golems when you can just Dominate people?

Immortality (Ex): Live forever. Not really a game effect, but very cool flavor-wise.

Multimorph (Su): Great if you depend on polymorph spells.

Opposition Research: By level 9, spending two slots to cast an opposition school spell isn't going to cripple you. If you really need a spell from an opposition school, two spell slots is likely worth less than a feat slot.

Split Slot: Since so many of enchantment spells are going to be save-or suck, your high level spell slots are likely more productive. However, don't underestimate the value of low levels buffs.

True Name (Sp): Planar Binding is a good spell, and this effectively lets you use it at will as a move action.

Staff-Like Wand: If you like wands, this is a worthwhile discovery. However, you can't get it until level 11 when you are casting 6th level spells, and wands only go up to 4th level spells. If you lack combat options, this can really improve the usefulness of caster level-dependant spells like Magic Missile or Scorching Ray.

Weapons

Stop. Put that down. You're going to hurt yourself.

  • Dagger: Carry one or two for utility purposes, but don't plan to pull them out in combat.
  • Light Crossbow: A decent backup weapon at low levels when you run low on spells, but you will be more reliable with cantrips because your attack rolls will be so low.

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.

  • 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

Rods

  • Metamagic, Any: Metamagic rods, especially lesser rods, are a bargain. 3 users per day and you can apply them to prepared spells as you cast them. Extend Spell is a personal favorite, especially for hours/level duration buffs like mage armor so that you can stretch their duration all day or even overnight once you're high enough level.

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.

Wondrous Items

  • Cloak of Resistance: Too crucial to forego.
  • Headband of Vast Intelligence: Get it early, enhance it often.

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.

Multiclassing and Prestige Classes

Don't, unless you have a specific concept in mind. If you must multiclass, try very hard to not give up spellcaster levels. Also keep in mind that classes which give you spellcasting do not allow you to learn spells for free when you gain levels.