Friday, April 1, 2016

Wizard Saga I: Sharp Dressed Mage

Ostensibly, Pathfinder is a game that offers a variety of character classes each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses that can work together to solve any problem. But much like in Animal Farm, while all classes are equal in the rules, some are more equal than others.

As a descendant of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, Pathfinder has inherited the raw power and versatility of spell-casting classes. Of the casting classes, they can be divided roughly into two camps- spontaneous casters, which know a small number of spells but can cast them in any combination up to a certain number of times per day per spell level, and prepared (or Vancian) casters, who prepare their spells each day in exact terms but are free to change them up each time according to the spells they learn/are able to draw upon. Spontaneous casters theoretically have more spells per day, but as we've mentioned before, a prepared caster can usually keep pace with higher level spells, class features and items. Thus for any given problem, a prepared caster is best-equipped to deal with it, and can probably solve it within a day or two.

There are four prepared casters with all nine levels of spells- cleric, druid, witch, and wizard, and while the first three all have their charms and their uses, if you're looking for sheer problem-solving ability it's probably the wizard that narrowly claws its way to the top of the pile.

Well, how bad can it get?

I'm glad you asked. Let's build a wizard.

But let's not roll up just any wizard, let's have fun with it. Specifically, let's create a wizard who lives the good life, having fun and avoiding unpleasant things whenever possible.

Starting with ability scores, wizards prioritize Intelligence above all things, and it's not bad to have a good Constitution modifier for Fortitude saves and extra HP, and a good Dexterity modifier for better Reflex saves and AC, plus Initiative and some touch attacks, followed by Wisdom just to not bump it. Charisma isn't hugely important, but it's not a bad thing to have some of it either if you're down with planar binding, while Strength can be pretty much dumped entirely.

For race, the most important thing is we pick one that boosts Intelligence. Very few other things actually matter. There are some races with interesting traits, but we can set those aside for the moment.

On to our Arcane Bond. Now, as mentioned, bonding with an object is nice and all because who would say no to a free spell of your highest spell level? But carrying around a wand or weapon sounds kind of like work, so what about a nice familiar? Animal Archive introduced archetypes for animal companions and familiars where you could pick an archetype that replaces certain default traits and features with other ones. For our wizard, we need only one word: Valet. Because who doesn't want a monkey who makes you breakfast in bed? Seriously, you have your own Alfred as a class feature.

With that settled, it's now time to choose our Arcane School. Spells can be divided into eight schools of magic (well, nine if you include Universalist).

Abjuration: Spells that deal with stuff like protection and countering magic
Conjuration: Spells that deal with space and matter, such as creating things, summoning things, or teleporting things
Divination: Spells that deal with information and detection
Enchantment: Spells that deal with mental manipulation
Evocation: Spells that create energy
Illusion: Spells that deal with deception and shadows
Necromancy: Spells that deal with souls, death, and the undead
Transmutation: Spells that deal with altering and changing matter and form

As a specialist mage, you choose one school as your arcane school, and two more as your prohibited schools. You can prepare one extra spell of your school per spell slot each day, and gain a scaling set of features, including abilities gained at levels 1 and 8. Your prohibited schools require two spell slots to prepare, and you're not as good with them. You can also choose to be a Universalist wizard and have neither prohibited nor favored schools, which isn't a good idea because you don't get extra spell slots and the level 1 feature is just terrible.

So, what school to focus on, and what to prohibit?

Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination and Transmutation all contain incredibly useful and powerful spells, and prohibiting them is generally a terrible idea. Specializing in them isn't a bad idea, and it comes down to what school benefit you want. Since we're devoted to being generally work-averse, having other people around to do the heavy lifting sounds like a fine idea- Conjuration it is. Unfortunately the acid dart power is pretty dull for an ability, so it's best to replace it with one of the subschools such as the useful teleportation subschool. Choosing Infernal Binder sacrifices the useless acid dart and useful teleport ability of the school in exchange for an imp familiar for free at level 7 and prohibiting the caster from being chaotic or good in alignment- somehow I get the feeling that that won't be much of a loss. Alfred just got better.

For the two prohibited schools, it's a choice between Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, and Necromancy. Enchantment is useful but gets blocked by many creatures who are immune to emotions, charms, compulsions and mind-affecting effects, Evocation has a ton of spells that are just direct damage (though the ones that aren't can be interesting), Illusion can be pierced by certain types of magic and is limited by your imagination, and Necromancy can also be blocked by various creature types. Given that opposition research can be taken at level 9 or 10 to regain one of the schools, and Evocation and Necromancy aren't really that noteworthy until you get higher level spells, let's go with them. Besides, if you really need Evocation at a higher level, you can always cheat. Dumping Enchantment and Necromancy, then picking up Necromancy later is also a perfectly valid tactic.

As far as skills go, we have high Intelligence and Intelligence grants skill points retroactively. So we have a ton of skills. Spellcraft and Knowledge are our big go-to skills, plus Fly at higher levels, but the rest of the points can be spent on whatever (and used by our familiar).

For feats, I'm not going to go too in-depth on them, but basically we get feats that improve our summoning power, our ability to craft, and a few generic staples like spell penetration and improved initiative. Plus discoveries like Opposition Research to make being a specialist even more awesome, Fast Study to provide that spontaneous casting feeling, and True Name at level 15 to whistle up a special friend to do our chores.

One of those crafting feats is going to be Craft Wondrous Item, because Wondrous Items make up a staggering chunk of the game.

A few things worth noting about crafting magic items in Pathfinder compared to previous editions- Crafting no longer costs XP, just money (half the amount it would cost to buy it). At the end of the time you take to craft it, you make a Spellcraft check based on the level of the item. Not having prerequisites doesn't mean you can't make the item, it just means that the Spellcraft DC on the final item is increased. And Spellcraft is both Intelligence-based and a class skill for wizards, which means we have it in spades. There are few things we can't make. You can only have one item per slot, but you can add the capabilities of one item to another by increasing the cost of one of them by 50% (usually, this means adding the cost of the cheaper item onto the more expensive one). Making an item slot-less doubles its cost. And since our familiar is a valet, it shares our crafting abilities and doubles our item creation output. This means we can get some damn fine magic items out of this.

Now, we could go into detail about how combat usually involves turning the battlefield into a warped hellscape, debilitating our foes and then zerg rushing them with an army of souped-up minion shit-kickers, but why ruin the good vibes? Let's think about the good times... what can magic do for you?

Well, right out of the gate, you can do your laundry with a snap of your fingers, or have your imp do it for you. You can comfortably endure the hottest places in the world (but not the coldest ones) regardless of what you're wearing. You don't have to do your own chores or carry your own possessions. You can make yourself heard or look like anyone. You can mitigate aches and get seriously buzzed.

Later on, you can make people like you, or make people really like you, and speak with anyone. You can climb really well or swim really well.

You can travel in style riding a tireless steed or chariot that can eventually travel over any terrain without slowing down. When you're done traveling for the day, you can settle down in your own house (fun fact: the house conjured by this spell is made out of whatever materials are common in the area, and the exact process is vague enough that there's no restrictions other than having the space available, so by targeting this spell in the right area you can build a house out of gingerbread or sofas or something and it'll be as solid as stone).

Now that we're into the mid-level spells, our wizard can fly all day, and is now capable of existing in any environment, from the highest mountains to the deepest seas to the vacuum of outer space. We can crew our own ship or just laugh off travel time altogether. This is also the point where we can plop down some cash on permanent spells so we can speak all languages, detect magic, read magic and see through the darkness.

Since we're in the market for spending money on sweet power-ups, we might as well shop around for items. If we build them ourselves, we save half-off on the cost, and Alfred the imp familiar possesses cooperative crafting and all our crafting capabilities meaning we now craft twice as fast (make a Cespenar impression at your own peril).

Well, for starters our wizard no longer requires food or drink and survives on only two hours of sleep a day, and can also protect mental privacy, walk on water, go invisible, block foes, get a pile of minions, always find a party, or just flat-out no-sell force spells or grapples and other forms of movement denial.

Now, there's the problem of the fact that we've mentioned something like ten rings and have only two ring slots, but a few things of note: The first of which is the fact that a meridian belt costs next to nothing and lets us wear four rings, but only use two at a time. The more important part is the fact that we can bolt on additional properties like some sort of unholy Megaman/Katamari hybrid by increasing the cost by half, so a 50% cost boost to a 2,500 gp ring of sustenance is nothing when bolted onto a 40,000 gp ring of freedom of movement, especially when we're only spending half that if we build it ourselves. Even at a 50% cost hike, half off means we're still only paying 75% of market price. True, it'll take us a few months to build our bad boy, but we already have Alfred doubling our crafting rate, and that's just the start of what we can do.

By goofing around with our four semi-active slots, maybe we want a combat ring that defends and heals us, or a utility ring to move objects with our mind.

With rings mostly settled, we can now move into Wondrous Items and see what sort of things can make our lives more magical. A Meridian Belt is but a pittance to bolt onto a better belt so we can have access to more magical rings we might not always need. As to the core of our belt, it's almost certainly an attribute booster to bolster our Constitution and Dexterity modifier, to better survive whatever comes our way. Strength is not really necessary, as it's cheap enough to triple our carrying capacity on the off chance we want to do real work. Past that and it's just novelty item time. Maybe we want to survive an extra 100 points of damage a day, or be able to stuff ourselves through a cat door, or maybe we just want to ride a horse better or hang on to our shit. There's not a huge amount of vital belt options for a wizard.

Moving onto body slot items and it's a different story. Now, you might think to yourself, "since I am a Grandmaster Archmage, the best possible item I could get for myself is a Robe of the Archmagi because it has my name on it." You'd be wrong. The best possible caster body item isn't a robe, it's a kimono. This Kimono, in fact. Both offer the same resistance bonus to saving throws, but a robe of the archmage also offers a bonus to AC and spell resistance. Unfortunately by the time you can afford it, 19 Spell Resistance can be overcome by a sneeze from level-appropriate enemies, and +5 to AC isn't much when you can already just spend a 1st level spell on mage armor for +4 AC for most of the day, especially when most enemy attacks will breach your AC regardless of how much you spent on it, unless you're really good at AC investment (and thus are subsequently really bad at anything useful). That leaves the kimono- while the robe grants a +2 bonus on caster level checks to beat Spell Resistance, the Otherworldly Kimono offers a +4 bonus on caster level checks period, which means not only does it blow the robe out of the water on punching through SR, it can also aid you in things like dispelling magic or breaking curses. Not only that, but it also comes with the once a day ability to tell a target to take a hike  with no saving throw offered, removing them from the battlefield for at least a round, if not several, as you trap them among a field of cherry blossoms in the most anime manner possible, which also boost your saves and caster level check results even further. If you're anticipating a powerful enemy, there's nothing stopping you from banishing a non-threat into your pocket for the added boost to your power- send them on a sakura-viewing picnic and tell them to enjoy themselves for the next ten minutes while you benefit from those sweet bonuses. And it costs less than the robe to boot.

As to other items to strap on to our fabulous kimono, we might want to consider a robe of stars for reasons that will be explained later, while other items might be a robe of arcane heritage if you're involved in Eldritch Heritage shenanigans (actual sorcerers can use it to pick up their capstone powers far earlier), or a fantastically low-cost robe of infinite twine because some days you're just gonna need more rope. Most DMs aren't petty about your spell component pouches, but if they are then the robe of components has you covered (literally).

Moving to the torso slot, we're in luck! There is nothing in here we actually want. All the more reason to buy a pile of quick runner's shirts and swap them out after battles. Well, I suppose there's not aging, if that's your thing.

Eye slot items are a similar wasteland for a conjuration wizard. I suppose we could find secret doors or see what our familiar sees or look back in time. Truesight goggles are useful, but ridiculously expensive, and the same but less-so for eyes of the dragon. Annihilation spectacles are great, but are a transmuter item, not a conjurer item. Oh well, more money to waste on other stupid shit.

Moving on to the feet slot, and oh hey, there's not much of interest in here either. You could swim through the sea and walk on lava, but there are other ways to accomplish that. Boots of speed are a generic way to get out of dodge quickly, though more appropriate for a fighting character. So not much to spend on other than the ability to levitate, move faster, ignore terrain, traverse ice and survive a fall from orbit.

Hand slot items continue the theme of "there is nothing of interest for a wizard except novelty items." But hey, these ones are actually sort of interesting. We have novelty cantrips we don't need to waste slots preparing, along with the ability to palm our junk and work stone like clay and leave calling cards like the Family Circus kids. Are you not thrilled to have the powers of the cosmos at your fingertips?

It's a good thing we saved all that money by only buying cheap stuff for the previous items, because we are going to spend ourselves into the ground on the next few areas.

For the head slot, a solid base is the iron circlet of guarded souls, which not only prevents us from having our soul sucked out through our nostrils, but also possibly makes us completely immune to 90% of all divination spells. This is because it nukes anything that nondetection has a chance of stopping, and since it's phrased as "divination spells such as" it means nondetection normally has a chance to block just about any divination short of discern location while the helm changes that chance to 100%. Note that "divination" is a category that not only includes things like detecting your thoughts or alignment, or spying on you with crystal balls, but also spells like see invisibility or true seeing. One minor difficulty is that if you die with your hat on, people can't bring you back with anything short of a wish/miracle until they remove your hat, but just try to not die (and if anyone actually kills you, it is only natural for them to want to remove a hat such as yours). As far as other items to bolt on, why not double your chances against mind-affecting spells and gaze attacks, disguise yourself or block a critical hit? You can even make other people like you more.

(While not something our wizard will ever use, I would also like to point out that a grappler's mask is pretty much a fantasy luchador mask.)

Moving into the headband section, and there's no way we're walking out of here without buying something. A headband of intelligence is the bare minimum here, but maybe we want one that boosts our Wisdom and/or Charisma as well, or maybe we want one that lets us fly at-will or boots our shapeshifting abilities. Maybe we want to be able to walk forever and ignore blindness, shake off conditions, keep people from stealing our hat or resolve alignment issues.

Moving into the neck slot items and there's a nice pile of junk to buy. Major question to answer is- do we care about boosting AC, and what do we think about the ability to travel to any plane we want at-will? AC really isn't that great of an investment at level 20, but it's still an option. For starters, let's become immune to poison and disease, and then make it so we can breath in space and ignore gases. Hmm... you know what else might be nice? Another ring slot, putting us at five rings total, three of which are active at any one time. Petrification sucks, so let's ignore that, and ignore swarms as well. I don't like curses either. Heck, why not entertain our friends at parties by doing impersonations? We can also tell dragons to fuck off.

Also, you can totally screw with sorcerer bloodlines and Eldritch Heritage, but that's not something for this build.

(Also, remember that magic helm I mentioned earlier? Compare it to an amulet of proof against detection and location, which is ostensibly supposed to do the same thing, except the helm costs 5000 gp less and is almost 100% effective, while the amulet doesn't offer much of a resistance by the time you can afford it).

Moving on to our shoulder slot and we get into the last major purchase for our wizard. Since we already have our anime kimono, there's no real need for us to to get a cloak of resistance, there's not a whole lot left. There's flight if you haven't picked it up already, but other than that there's not much to buy. A cloak of displacement means 20% of most attackers will just fail to hit you altogether and completely blocks most sneak attacks from rogues and similar characters. We can befriend better, endure environments and resist fatigue and energy drain while healing faster, and sleep like a magical butterfly. For a paltry sum we can even boost our strength by 8 for the purpose of carrying things, and when combined with our triple capacity belt means we can lift a grown man with one hand like it ain't a thing, and medal in the Olympics if we put our back into it. This is assuming Strength is our dump score. If it's strictly average, we can bench 900 lbs. Cast a few 1st or 2nd level spells on ourselves and we can lift a literal ton or two for the next twenty minutes.

Next would be our wrist slot item, and fortunately for us all there's nothing much of interest to a caster here either. True, there's bracers of armor, but AC isn't really an area where a wizard wins out. There's also the bracers of falcon's aim, which beats out the lesser bracers of archery by a mile. I suppose we could deflect arrows or use Glibness once per day.

That just leaves us with the slotless items, but I've already written a large amount of words  so far, so that can wait until later.

TL;DR Thus Far- A 20th level wizard has 880,000 gp, but can craft items to basically double that in value. Since we can combine items into the same slot with only an increase in cost on the cheaper items, we can consolidate a truly ridiculous amount of power into our wizard

Next Time: We get into high-level spells and discover that the bullshit train has no brakes

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