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I've already asked this question for 3.5e, but it seems to be very different in Pathfinder, as many of the feats, prestige classes, and even the base class abilities of wizard and sorcerer have changed. So I am asking this again, but specifically focusing on pathfinder only material.

'Blasting' in Pathfinder, dealing damage using spells, is seen as inferior to battlefield control, buffing, and debuffing - in that it uses up more spell slots for less effect, takes longer to work, and is resisted by more types of monsters and enemies.

I know why this is, and that isn't the focus of this question.

I'd like to know what some builds, combinations of feats, classes, spells and magic items are that make blasting competitive with other spellcasters focused on things other than damage. Specifically looking for builds that;

  • Overcome the weaknesses inherent to blasting (low damage, resistances, immunities, SR, touch AC)
  • Maintain a degree of utility and aren't 'one trick ponies'
  • Directly do damage with spells, aimed at taking enemies out of combat as fast as possible, as many times per day as possible
  • Are playable from as low level as possible
  • Have some degree of 'flair' or 'theme' in their design

Both complete builds and simple suggestions or lists of usable/competitive elements for a 'blaster' spellcaster are both acceptable as answers. The one non-negotiable factor is that the suggestions or build must be competitive with relatively unoptimized spellcasters who are not blasters in terms of effectiveness.

Assume for the purposes of this question that no 3.5e material is allowed, and that paizo material is superior to 3rd party material.

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That's a VERY broad topic, there are a lot of discussion out there, and a lot of available builds already, not sure this is relevant to SE –  Cristol.GdM Feb 8 at 3:59
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@Cristol.GdM - A casual google search does not uncover them, and there are no similar questions on this site. I have already built a blaster in PF that kept up with a tier-1 party, but it required hours of research. This question is intended to create a tool so people don't have to reinvent the wheel each time they also want to do that. –  Jack Lesnie Feb 13 at 17:03
    
But if you have done it, should you not try to answer it as well? –  Julix Feb 14 at 19:01

4 Answers 4

My favorite themed blaster I made was based off Gray from Fairy Tail. He was a crossblooded sorcerer with Draconic(White) and Elemental(Water) bloodlines. This meant that I could make every spell into an ice spell and Draconic added more damage as well as some more resistances to cold. (Since Grey loves to rip his shirt off in battle)

  • Overcoming weaknesses: The best way to do this is to focus on a singular spell and spell type. Spell Specialization feat line and School focus allow you to improve a spell with a metamagic without increasing the level slot. You also improve upon the SR with focusing on a particular school. Force or Acid are both good schools that can help bypass most SR and immunities if you don't want to do the standard Fire.
  • Utility: In the case of this character I went with the ice build because of the metamagic Rime Spell. There is also the possibility of multi-classing for Oracle's Wave domain and getting Freezing Spell. These will either entangle or slow respectively. On top of that you really need to learn 2-4 blasting spells and the rest of your spells can be utility
  • Killing people as fast as possible is quite easy once you hit 15+. You will have spell specialization feat line and be able to easily cast 2 blasts a turn. Early on you will want to focus on Intensified or Empowered to boost your damage. I prefer to use AOE spells for my blasters, some of the best blasting spells are already AOE which helps ensure you at least kill 1 enemy
  • Low level there are a few key things that will help... Magical Lineage is a trait that gives you caster level applied to a specific spell and can be changed later. Assigning this to burning hands or magic missile will help make blasting early easier.
  • As for theme the character I played allowed me to make every spell into an ice spell, this allowed me to use the Rime metamagic to entangle my enemies in ice. Taking bloodline abilities for resist cold gave my character the ability to tear off his shirt whenever he wanted and never be chilly! Plus what is cooler than summoning a ice dragon to destroy your enemies?

As for end game spells, there are a few viable options. Fire Snake is a popular blaster spell because it lets you choose the aoe shape and has a very solid 1d6/level damage amount. Add in Empower for another 1d6/2 levels, Magical Lineage for another 3d6 (until level 18) Plus 1 per die from Draconic Bloodline and 1 per die from Orc Bloodline (if you take it) the numbers become very respectable very quickly.

I can expand on this some more when I get home and have the sheet in front of me. I am sure there are small quirks that I missed.

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A casual google search uncovered several discussions about this, the most relevant apparently being this build. I am copying it here, with explanations.

Paizo BLASTER CASTER build:

Goal: Pile on the hurty-hurt with direct damage spells. You don't need battlefield control if the enemy is dead.

Level 1: Take Sorceror: Crossblooded Orc/Draconic, Human, take Varisian Tattoo, take Trait: magical Lineage (pick spell), Reactionary (+2 Init)

Then take Wizard/Evoker -Admixture Specialist for your remaining levels. Why Admixture? Because you can change the element of any of your blasting spells on the fly to get around elemental resistances/immunities.

If you want to superspecialize outside of Evoker, take Sin Magic, lose two schools (Conjuration/Abjuration), gain yet another spell slot per level of raw power.

Key Feats: Intensify Spell, Empower Spell, Quicken Spell, Spell Perfection, Spell Penetration, Spell Specialization, Greater Spell Specialization.

End result: Crossblooded sorc orc/dragon bloodline 1, Wiz/19, Admixture Evocation specialist. Note: Can use Sin Magic for more slots. Sorcerer level allows use of spell devices from denied schools (Conj/Abjuration). Magical Lineage Trait allows Intensify for free on chosen spell. Spell Perfection allows free Quicken at higher levels.


Play Hints:

Take Burning Hands or Magic Missile as a Specialized Spell early. Burning Hands will deal more damage, Magic Missile has better long-term utility and keeps you out of danger. Every other level, you can change your specialized spell.

Add Greater Spell Specialization at level 7 or 9. Why? You can then memorize utility spells, and trash them for your blaster spell.

Change your specialized spell up to Scorching Ray or Fireball when you can, depending on campaign, typically at 5 or 7.

At level 12 or higher, change it to Fire Snake. Use Admixture specializing to change the element on the fly.

Use Fire Snake until higher levels. Why? High damage base and level 5 spell still leaves room for metamagic, esp Quicken.

Mechanics behind Choices: Orc blooded, Draconic: +1 to all damage spells, +1 to element of choice, retasked by Admixture = +2 dmg/die on blasting spells.


Feats

Intensify Spell: Increases caster level damage cap +5 to apply to a specific spell. Burning hands goes up to 10d4+20. Magic Missile goes to 7d4+14. Fireball to 15d6+30, Fire Snake to 20d6+40.

Empower Spell: Increase dmg by 50%.

Quicken Spell: Hit enemy with two spells/rd.

Spell Specialization: +2 to caster level with a specific spell. Helps bring the damage earlier and faster.

Varisian Tattoo: +1 to Caster level with a specific school (Evo). This buys off your sorc level.

Greater Spell Specialization: Sacrifice spells to power your chosen blaster spell. Means you can memorize utility spells freely.

Spell Perfection: Doubles fixed feat bonuses, apply one metamagic for free. An Empowered/Intensified spell with Magical Lineage is still its original spell slot. SPell Penetration doubles to +4. Varisian Tattoo to +2. Spell Specialization to +4. Effectively, you've got +10 on Spell Resistance rolls, and are casting 'Your spell' at 5 levels higher then your own.

Top End Damage: 30d6 +60 from Fire Snake, empowered, Intensified, average 165 dmg, save 1/2, level 5 slot. Quicken for another hit, 5th level slot, 20d6 + 40dmg, avg 165. = 330 blasting dmg in one round, save for 1/2. If you've a Rod of Maximize, you can lift this to 215 base damage.

Base level 5 spell slot is 20d6+40 dmg, 165 dmg.


By Level

At level 1, your Burning Hands should be 2d4+4 (avg 9)

At level 2, its unchanged.

At level 3, Spell Specialization kicks in. 5d4+10 (22.5). This tops it unless you Intensify it.

At 4th, 6d4+12 (27), Intensified BH.

At 5th, Intensified BH, 7d4+14 (31.5).

At 6th, you can shift Spec to Scorching Ray. 2x 4d6+8 (44). Your Fireball is 5d6+10 as well, or 7d6+14 if specced.

At 7th, 6d6+12 fireball, or 8d6+18 if spec. An Empowered, Intensified Burning Hands, if still the spec spell, is 13.5d4+27 (about 60).

8th - Empowered Scorching Ray, 2 x 6d6+12. E/I BH is 15d6+30 (74, max)

9th - Intensified, Specialized Fireball is 11d6+22 (51).

10th - Firesnake. E/Spec Fireball is 15d6+30 (74). Emp Scorching Rays are 3 x 6d6+12, or 18d6+36 (99 dmg). You can now Quicken a Burning Hands or Magic Missile as kicker damage in a round, although you've few slots.

12th - E/I/Spec Fireball is 21d6+42 (115) damage. You can now Quicken a 12d6+24 Scorching Ray.

14th level - A Specialized Firesnake now exceeds/equals an intensified Fireball. Fireball caps at 22.5d6+ 45 (123~) damage. An Empowered Firesnake is 24d6+48 (132) damage. You can now Quicken a 10d6+20 Fireball. Intensified, Empowered Scorching Ray tops out at 24d6+48 (132 dmg)

15th level - Spell Perfection. You can now add a Meta for Free. This will be Quicken or Empower. Intensified might be free if Magical Lineage applies to it. Caster level buffs for spec spell exceed +5, so top out at 20d6 dmg at 15th level. You will miss Spell Resistance rolls against CR appropriate enemies on a 1. Assuming Firesnake, you can now cast a Quickened Intensified Firesnake for 20d6+40 (110) damage out of a 5th level slot, and an Empowered Firesnake out of the same slot for 30d6+60 (165) damage. Using a 7th level slot, you can Empower both.

16th+ - Damage remains the same, higher level spell slots are open for use of other Metas or control spells.

Conceivably you could use Disintegrate to get a higher damage total, but the delay isn't worth it, and you'd lose the Varisian tattoo bonus.

If your DM allows you Twin Spell from 3.5, you can very, very easily clock in at 495 raw dmg/round. IF he allows Arcane Thesis, god help your enemies.

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That's a pretty large quote; could you put it more in your own words? On a side note, the build looks like it does a lot of damage in any flavor, though the use of spell specialization is steering it towards being a one-trick pony, which the OP is trying to avoid. I don't see anything here about overcoming saving throws, though: what happens if you have a high-Reflex, Improved Evasion target? –  Paul Marshall Feb 14 at 0:54
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With Spell Perfection, all bonuses are doubled, so you get about +6 to your DCs for your favorite spell, and about +10 against SR (it is mentioned under Spell Perfection entry in the feats section, and again for the 15th level entry). As for reformulating it... honestly, that wouldn't be a great idea. I would end up repeating and paraphrasing it, which would be disrespectful to the original author (that's the reason why I put it as a quote rather than just putting it as my own answer) –  Cristol.GdM Feb 14 at 3:32

I'm going to pull this list out of one of my favorite online resources, The New Virtually No-nonsense guide for psions. A well optimized Psion, Wizard, or Sorceror should have a spell, or power that fits each of the following Niches:

  • Ranged attack roll
  • Melee attack roll
  • Targets Fortitude Save
  • Targets Reflex Save
  • Targets Will Save
  • Allows no Save
  • Not Subject to Spell Resistance or Power Resistance (SR/PR)
  • Area of Effect (for fighting Swarms)
  • Force Effect (for fighting Incorporeal/Ethereal creatures)
  • Effective against Anti Magic Field/Null Psionics Field
  • Effective against Globe of Invulnerability(Spells above level 3)

Each of these individual sections of spells is important to make a caster. To make a blaster you want to do this as much as possible by utilizing non-elemental damage, Sonic damage, or force damage to bypass the resistances that demons, devils, golems, etc. get at the later levels that you're going to want to worry about.

The best way you can use to bypass the elemental resistances of a creature you're fighting is the Knowledge skill associated with the monster type you're fighting so you know their strengths and weakness, and the Admixture ability from the Advanced player's guide. Or use a Force or Sonic spell, as not many creatures have resistances to these kinds of damage.

The Admixture ability allows you to substitute the type of elemental damage ( For example, turning a Fireball into a Coldball, or a Lightning bolt into an Acid Bolt ) to bypass your foes inherent elemental resistances ( Much like a psion when manifesting their powers. ) This will give you the level of elemental manipulation you require to get past a lot of the nastier creatures with elemental resistances.

The first two are self explanatory. Spells that require a Ranged or a Melee attack roll normally are roll to hit, are good against enemies that have low armor classes due to their size, and normally bypass saves. This also have the benefit of hitting against ranged touch AC, which makes it much easier to land an unresisted spell.

Also, Since you're bypassing the save you can deal 100% of your damage upon hitting, and have a chance to critical and deal double damage if you roll a 20 and confirm. Spells that fall into this category include spells like Scorching Ray, Disintegrate, Gloomblind Bolts, Prismatic Ray and Polar Ray. They're important, as a wizard its good to have one on hand just in case you roll up against something that meets the above specifications.

( Some GMS even allow Improved Critical (Ray) for Ray spells to threaten on 19-20 as well, ask your GM about it! )

The next three, targeting individual saves, are for creatures that are weak, slow, or weak-willed. Cold spells typically target Fortitude, Fire and lightning normally target reflex saves. Spells in the enchantment school, such as charm or dominate spells target the Will save, but you want to avoid spells that have the mind affecting descriptor, or have on that affects both without being mind affecting, because mind-affecting wont work on objects immune to such spells.

Spells not subject to Spell resistance are important, especially if you don't want to burn spell slots doing nothing on your rounds. Creatures with (Ex) or (Su) abilities bypass Spell resistance and can be gained via Summon Monster spells, so that's one avenue that can be used. Forcecage can be used to create bars which will let your allies wail on them, combined with cloudkill it can lower the constitution of anything in enough rounds to kill it.. or you can just go the blasting route and use spells like Caustic Eruption, Shout, or other spells like Ice Spears ( These aren't the BEST examples of spells that fit these criteria, but they are meant to be examples of spells that can bypass SR )

Area of effect is also self explanatory. Swarms are a pain and AoE spells deal full damage to swarms. Spells like Fireball, Lightning bolt, etc. The like are what you've got here. Bypassing energy resistances with Admixture as usual.

Force effects are important for dealing with Ghosts. Forcecage fits the bill, as does wall of force, magic missile, etc. They're important but you probably wont be running up against shadows too much, and if you do you can pick up a cleric who can dust ghosts with Channel energy or turning. If the wizard itself is on the ghosts home plane ( Ethereal Plane ), using a spell such as Ethereal Jaunt, your spells function normally on the Ghost as well, so that's another option if you're having issues finding force spells.

Anti-magic is tricky, and can be mitigated using Wall of force, Prismatic Wall, or Prismatic sphere. Spells that create non-magical matter can also be used to bypass an Antimagic sphere as well.

Find spells that fit each of these descriptors and keep a few of each in your spell book / spell list and I think you should be good.

What you should do if you want to blast is to be a blaster when the group needs a blaster, and the rest of the time use battlefield control If your damage-man is down for the count step up to the plate and swing that bat, otherwise throw something in to help out your allies, its normally equally as good using an action to do that as well. If you want to smoke monsters with damage spells everything I've linked here should be a good start.

Remember another good way to blast is to disable your target with a nice save-or-suck before you drop the pain on them. But I'm sure you're already knowledgeable about that. And never forget the role of the mailman. He always makes sure the mail arrives.

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The inherent difficulty of a blaster-caster is the self-defeating nature of their focus.

What is the primary goal of a blaster-caster? To inflict as much damage as possible.

How do we determine the most effect way to inflict damage? By doing math.

Let's look at an example. A wizard of 5th level casts a fireball spell. This spell does 5d6 points of fire damage. At his level, there are over a dozen separate enemies in bestiary 1 alone that he could potentially be facing with resistance to fire, spell resistance, a high reflex save, or a combination of all three. Each of these factors reduce the potential effectiveness of his fireball spell. Thus, depending on the enemy he is fighting, the wizard could potentially be useless if his only spell is fireball. So, the wizard must take other damage spells, to increase the likelihood that one of said spells will be effective against multiple enemies, thus expending a greater amount of his most precious resource, spells-per-day, thus limiting the potential maximum number of relevant damage spells he can bring to any one fight, as he must have said spells prepared for them to be of use.

Alternatively, the wizard could prepare a haste spell. So long as one of his allies is within range, this spell will never fail to be useful, regardless of what foe he's facing.

So, the math tells us that, in this case, the damage spell is the less optimized option, meaning the wizard will be better off preparing a haste spell, even if his build is optimized for dealing damage. This is a trend that follows the wizard through the rest of the game, becoming worse as he levels up. The simply fact is, blaster-casters are only good if you know what you're going to be fighting, and can optimize to deal damage to it. The problem being that you usually won't know what you're fighting, it's never likely going to be the one thing, and if it is, the game probably isn't going to be that fun. Alternatively, you can be a utility caster, be useful regardless of what you're fighting, and not have to worry about your ability to contribute being directly inverse to your allies ability to do the same.

But, that doesn't help you. My suggestion? If you want to make a blaster-caster, do so. There are three easy rules to follow; (Begin reading here for helpful information)

1.) Prioritize Overcoming Spell Resistance. It is extremely common, especially in later levels, and can completely shut down your ability to deal damage.

2.) Prioritize increasing your DCs. Regardless of how much, there exist no amount of bonus damage that will yield a greater net of damage dealt than the same spell not being saved, especially when Evasion becomes an issue.

3.) Diversity is king. Find ways to deal damage of every element, and against every saving throw. A large number of enemies will be highly resilient to specific kinds of damage, but none are equally resilient to all kinds. Every monster has a weak spot.

A few general tips:

High knowledge skills help you determine the most effective way to damage a monster.

Samsarans can add Cleric spells to their spell lists. While not the most potent, a large number of cleric spells offer non-elemental damage, and some don't even allow saving throws for half damage. These are often quite useful against more resilient monsters.

Be realistic. Even if you know every trick in the book, you're not going to be able to burn all of your spells on all of them whenever you need to. Keep a reasonable number of bombs on hand, adjusting them to the setting the game takes place in, and then keep up some utility spells.

Spontaneous casters are the way to go. Blaster-casters are at their best when they don't have to worry about having the right trick at the right time. Being able to use whatever is best at the time is a Huge advantage.

Keep a calculator on hand. A thorough understanding of the ability of any one spell to do damage compared to another can be a great asset. If you figure out going in which spell is the best under certain circumstances, when those circumstances arrive, you'll already know what to cast.

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This is not specific information for creating a damage caster in PF - a discussion of why blasting is good or bad doesn't really come under 'how', or at least, is tangential at best. Very general advice is sort of helpful, but should be system-specific. Which feats, skills, class options, class choices, etc, enhance blasting to an appreciable degree? Which add flexibility? Etc. –  Jack Lesnie Feb 13 at 17:05
    
@JackLesnie The suggestions given were from the perspective of a person who has familiarity with pathfinder as their primary roleplaying game. Thus, it was all made under the assumption that anyone in a similar position would know how to go about accomplishing the things I suggest. If you'd like a WoW-style build tree, I would suggest the paizo forum. Which of the variety of builds in existence are 'the best' is based wholly on the campaign being played. I simply outlined the general concepts that fall behind the majority of them. Each accomplishes those things through different means. –  Zach Feb 15 at 10:18

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