Last time, we talked a bit about some of the more physically-inclined classes and what makes each one unique. This time, we’ll hit up the other side of the fence- spellcasters! Now, again, some of the classes here are perfectly capable of engaging in melee, and can even be quite good at it, but let’s face it- shoehorning any class into a single category is a bit pointless in Pathfinder, where variety is the spice of life and, with the right stats, feats, and equipment, even a once-scrawny wizard can wade out into melee and kick some Orc butt. Anyway, here’s a glimpse into the shiny world of spellcasting classes in Pathfinder:
The oracle is a unique spellcasting class and one of my favorites. They fall under divine casters and share the cleric’s spell list, but they don’t answer to a particular deity of their choice like a cleric. An oracle doesn’t choose to receive the power given to them by a mysterious source and doesn’t fully understand this power. Their motivation is to learn about their mystery and gain revelations to increase their abilities. Unfortunately the power comes at a price; Oracles are cursed and must endure some type of disability (clouded vision, wasting disease, haunted by spirits) in order to balance out the power they can draw. The oracle is kind of like the divine equivalent to a sorcerer (see below), and has a lot of cool abilities. If you want access to divine spells and abilities without having to be a stuffy priest, oracle might be the way to go.
Clerics are essentially priests, who worship a particular deity and draw their powers directly from that divine source. They prepare their spells in advance like a wizard, but instead of studying his or her spellbook, a cleric prays to their deity every day to access spells. There are a ton of ways to play a cleric, with a healing/supporting role being the classic route, but they can make hearty fighters or offensive spellcasters as well depending on the domains they choose. Our first campaign had a cleric with the Fire domain, which helped make up for the fact that we didn’t have any Arcane spellcasters in the party.
Druids worship Nature deities, spirits, or the natural world itself. In that, they’re similar to Clerics, but they have a very different spell list and some unique shapeshifting abilities. Does having a pet wolf or transforming into a hawk sound fun? Druid’s the way to go. They tend to fulfill a supporting role in the party, and since the types of armor they can wear are limited to non-metals, they might not be the best at wading into a fight, but that’s what shapeshifting into a bear is for.
The wizard is one of the most traditional types of spellcasters out there. Wizards have spellbooks and take a very academic approach to magic, choosing a “school” to specialize in, such as Illusion, Conjuration, or Divination. With the ability to copy down tons of spells into their books and prepare different ones for use each day, wizards are the masters of versatility. That said, playing a wizard gives one such a staggering variety of spell options that we wouldn’t recommend the wizard to a first-time player- it can get intimidating having so many choices.
Bards are a little different from the typical spellcaster- they certainly have plenty of spells to choose from, but not only are they decent fighters (and get proficiency with whips!), but their greatest gimmick is their Bardic Performance, which allows them to make beautiful, beautiful music- or dance, or insult comedy, your choice- with a variety of effects, from boosting the combat abilities of their allies to confounding enemies. They’re also great with Skills, and while they’re not the best fighters or magicians around, their variety of abilities make them great supporters, and an excellent way to round out any party.
Sorcerers are similar to wizards in many ways- they share the same spell list, after all- but they’re a good deal easier to understand. Sorcerers possess innate magical abilities instead of formally studying magic, and get to choose from a variety of bloodlines from which to draw their power. Want to play as a descendant of a dragon or demon? Sorcerer’s the way to go! In addition to their spells, they also get a small variety of powers based on their chosen bloodline. They only “know” a certain number of spells, so they may not have the variety a wizard possesses, but in general they can use their spells more times per day than wizards can.
The Magus is Paizo’s answer to that classic conundrum: what if I want to fight and cast spells? While multi-classing Fighter and Wizard is one way to achieve this, as is the Eldritch Knight prestige class, the Magus is probably the most direct route to achieving that sort of character. Built around the idea of holding a weapon in one hand and casting spells with the other, the Magus gets some cool powers like being able to deliver a touch spell by attacking with their melee weapon. They also get to wear armor while casting without penalty, gaining the ability to wear heavier types as they go up in level.
Summoners are an interesting idea: they sacrifice a good deal of variety in their spell selection for vastly improved Summon Monster powers, and gain a unique companion called an Eidolon that works kind of like a customizable animal companion, which evolves and gains new abilities as it levels up. Many GMs hate dealing with Summoners, but they can be a really fun class when played responsibly… since you’re basically getting to roleplay two separate characters
Witches operate in a similar fashion to wizards, but the flavor of the class is very different- witches are creepy. Instead of a spellbook, they have a familiar that acts as their conduit to eerie occult forces. They also get access to Hexes, which can be used without limit (although most can’t target the same creature more than once in a given period of time), which helps make up for their smaller selection of spells. With spells like Vomit Swarm on their list, witches have a very particular niche- debuffing enemies, pumping up their allies, and creeping everybody the hell out.
Now, by the strictest definition, Alchemists aren’t really spellcasters, but the way in which their Extracts work suggests that they imbue their alchemical creations with a hint of magic from their own being to give them their spell-like properties. These Extracts emulate various spells- generally ones that only affect the user. In addition to this, however, Alchemists get bombs! Tossing explosives into crowds of enemies is tons of fun, and alchemists also gain “discoveries” every couple levels, allowing them to customize their abilities. Alchemists have one other key ability: mutagen, which transforms them physically, making them better combatants, Jekyll/Hyde style.
Well, that about wraps it up for this installment of Roll Initiative. There are still more classes out there- the new Hybrid Classes from the Advanced Class Guide, the countless Prestige Classes, and don’t even get me started on the smorgasbord of Archetypes available for every class. Those we may cover in a future installment, but for now, well… just look at all those classes! If you don’t see anything in this or the previous installment’s breakdown that you want to play as, then fantasy role-playing games might just not be for you. So what’re you waiting for? Go grab your dice and get to rollin’!
Still have a few questions about classes? Ask us in the comments!
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