Building a save-or-lose Pathfinder Society Sorcerer for my previous game (Grease and Color Spray), I've chosen the following stats in 20-point point-buy: Str: 7, Dex: 14, Con: 12, Int: 10, Wis: 10, Cha: 18. In total, my Cha was 20 due to being a Human.

My GM has told me that this is actually sub-optimal, and it's better to have only 16 in Charisma (18 actually, +2 for being a Human), and instead allocate the remaining 7 points into something else, such as Dexterity and Constitution. I asked why, and he responded with something similar to "When you get to higher levels, you will understand".

In practice, having -2 to Charisma means -1 to the DC of my spells and having one less spell at level one. And it's really something when you have to choose between 4 or 5 spells per day, even at PFS where you have around one encounter per day.

Can this ever be desired, especially for a disabler Sorcerer?

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    \$\begingroup\$ We need a [prove-my-gm-is-wrong] tag. Other than his word, do we have any more information about why this provided information would go against common sense? \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 18 '19 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you advise what your stats would be if you had 18 Charisma? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jan 18 '19 at 15:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras No. But maybe someone has. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jan 18 '19 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical As an example, Str 7 Dex 14 Con 14 Int 12 Wis 12 Cha 18 \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Jan 18 '19 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this is a question about "what is better to optimize for?" which is too subjective, not "how do I optimize?" \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jan 18 '19 at 16:58

The more Charisma you have, the better you’ll be at, well, everything. Because that is what spells do, they do everything.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what is optimal in Pathfinder. The game has a very poor match between what it describes as good and effective, and what actually is. Players that take the descriptions’ word for things get misled about what works best.

Case in point, as described, magic isn’t everything. Non-magical classes are on equal footing, and even the most dedicated mage is well-advised to not completely ignore mundane concerns.

In reality, that simply isn’t true. Magic is everything. Having more and better magic makes you more effective—the only caveat being highly-asymmetric trades (more on that in a bit). This is the reality Paizo inherited when they based Pathfinder on 3.5e, and the reality they exacerbated by pretending things weren’t so. And this only becomes more true—much, much more true—at higher levels.

But people believe the descriptions. They want the system to be balanced. They even, at times, ignore evidence to the contrary. Or by limiting themselves to how things are described—healer clerics and blaster sorcerers—avoid coming across that evidence altogether. This may be what is going on with your GM.

Alternatively, or in connection, there is a consideration you GM might have that would be valid, in theory. Going from 16 to 18 in your point buy costs 7 points. That many points could, hypothetically, raise Constitution from 8 to 14. If you had to choose between 8 Con, 20 Cha, and 14 Con, 18 Cha, you'd be crazy to choose the former. Point for point, Charisma is much more important, but not three times as important as Constitution. After all, by mid-to-high levels, a bonus 5th-level and bonus 1st-level spell slot isn’t going to make or break you. Spells per day are cheap by mid levels—you will probably have enough. The DC is more important—1 more is the equivalent of two levels’ worth with a good save—but +3 higher Con is worth more than the 14 hp two levels of sorcerer gets you as early as 3rd level.

The problem with this analysis is that it’s in a vacuum. It arbitrarily forces your Con to 8, below where it starts, to maximize the effect. If your point buy were low enough that your choices were 8/8/8/8/8/20 vs. 8/8/14/8/8/18, yeah, going for the 20 wouldn’t be worth it—but your point buy isn’t that low. No one’s point buy is that low, I suspect—it corresponds to a point total of 2, when the lowest option Paizo gives is 10. You can, and should, get your Constitution to 14, but those points can, and should, come from somewhere else.

Dexterity would be your third-most important ability; the above applies to that too, but much less so.

As for the common suggestion that you could split the difference with a 19—whether or not that makes sense depends a whole lot on what level(s) we’re talking about. From 4th-7th, yeah, absolutely. From 8th-11th, 19 is just as bad as 18 so you might as well get more points out by going to 18, if that’s the route you’re going. And so on. Note that by 20th, you would typically have a +5 inherent bonus from wish or tome of leadership and influence to go along with the 5 bumps you get from levels—an even number, so starting with an even number is very valuable in that case. Anyway, depending on the level(s) you expect to play at, going with an odd number may make sense, but it’s at least equally-likely that this is a terrible choice that makes no mathematical sense. It all depends on how many bumps from level you’ve gotten.

Finally, please note that being optimal isn’t always necessary. Particularly for a sorcerer. You have power to spare and then some. You can afford to short yourself some on Charisma if you want. Your game may well go better, if otherwise you would overshadow the party too much. This answer really addresses the GM’s claim about the 20 being suboptimal.


Your GM is wrong, but

As @DanB explained in his fine answer, the math is in favor of having the highest possible spellcasting stat, and there is no denying that it can only improve your character's spellcasting abilities by having it as high as you can as early as possible. Anyone claiming otherwise is simply wrong, there is little to add to that.

However, what your GM is trying to say isn't that 18 is a better or optimal choice (in the sense of having a more "powerful" character), but that you have higher chances of succeeding at surviving to later levels by investing in some defensive stats, which may or may not be true, but that is entirely on his hands. But keep in mind that a dead mage cannot cast spells (mostly).

I have played games where casters were never attacked, and also played games where every NPC had spellcraft and could tell who was the most dangerous party member and focus all their attention on getting that PC killed.

He is not completely wrong

The GM is basically telling you that you don't need a super optimized character to play the game, and he is right in that regard (though he did put it rather poorly), you don't. Spells and spellcasters are so strong in Pathfinder that you are allowed to not play with the best stats and builds. They are given that choice and the game will forgive you even if you start with a 16 charisma, as you will have other options to make up for that or to avoid the issue at later levels, which was the point he was trying to make, I believe.

In fact, I'v played a druid character that started at 14 wisdom and was a blast, we managed to hit 8th level before the campaign derailed, and by then, I had enough magic items to compensate my spellcasting DC that was lower than expected by 2 points. I also focused primarily on buffing spells at earlier levels, while wild shaping with a higher than expected strength and dexterity scores.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “what your GM is trying to say isn't that 18 is a better or optimal choice, but that you have higher chances of succeeding at surviving,” wait what? What reasonable definition of better or optimal could there be that doesn’t include maximizing your chance of survival? You can’t optimally do anything if you’re dead. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 18 '19 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan you could also argue that having extra slots and more powerful spells will kill/disable enemies before they have the chance to kill you. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Jan 18 '19 at 17:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, you could argue that—I would argue that, in fact—which makes me all the more confused by your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 18 '19 at 18:22

Obviously we can't tell you exactly what was going through your GM's head, so the best answer here is likely: "Follow up with your GM and ask them to clarify why they feel the way they do."

With that out of the way:

1) You can't cast spells if you are dead

Your chosen stat spread doesn't offer much in the way of survivability, and as a result would rely heavily on your team's ability to keep you safe as well as your own ability to stay out of danger. This may vary from playgroup to playgroup, but I have yet to see a game where the spell-casters are left unchecked and unchallenged by the GM (at least not for very long). You and your spells are a giant threat, and therefore you are likely to be a priority target for enemies.

You've said your GM's suggestion was to put more points into the two stats that directly increase your survivability (More CON = More HP, More DEX = More AC). It seems most likely to me that they want you to increase your chances of surviving a given encounter.

2) Diminishing Returns

It costs 7 points to get from 16-18 (18-20 with Racial modifier) in Pathfinder's point-buy system. That's a difference between a modifier of +3 and +4 (+4 and +5). In a d20 system, like Pathfinder, each +/-1 can be thought of as a +/-5% chance of success on any given roll. This means that you are spending 7 points to go from a +20% chance of success to a +25% chance - an improvement of 25%. On the other hand, if you take those 7 points elsewhere you could increase your Dex from +2 to +3 (+10% to +15%) -an improvement by 50%- and still have 2 points left over to put into your Intelligence or Wisdom.

As another alternative you could take a -1 in either your Intelligence or Wisdom (dropping from no modifier to a -5%) and along with the two leftover points end up with a stat spread of

STR:7 DEX:16 CON:12 INT:9/10 WIS:9/10 CHA:17+2

then upon reaching 4th Level you could use your Ability Score increase to get from CHA:17+2 to CHA:18+2. Depending on what you fight for the first 3 levels, this could be more optimal as lower level enemies will have worse saves and therefore the additional 5% chance at success could be overkill. This is highly dependent on what enemies you are facing.

Ultimately, it seems your GM's advice is aiming at making your character more of a "generalist" and less of a "specialist" in the interest of increasing your survivability without sacrificing much (if any) combat effectiveness. Whether this trade-off seems worth it is really up to you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think your diminishing returns point is particularly strong, and this isn't even factoring in equipment yet. If a DM expects a Sorcerer to get a +Cha items quickly while the Fighter gets +Str/+Con items quickly, the diminishing returns become even more pronounced. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael W. Jan 18 '19 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1: +1 to save DC should really really not be thought of as +5% chance of success-- you want to target enemies' low saves and have as high a DC as possible so +1 should usually be at least the difference between saves-on-a-16 and saves-on-a-17, a +20% increase. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jan 18 '19 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @the_dark_wanderer I don’t understand how going from 16 to 17 is a 20% increase. Can you break that down for me? I explain +/-1 to my new players like this, so if I am misleading them I definitely wanna know about it. (I haven’t taken a math class in near on a decade, so if you can dumb it down to at least a high school level, that would be much appreciated.) \$\endgroup\$ – GreedyRadish Jan 18 '19 at 23:39

Take the 20

(I'll talk about your stats before racial modifiers here)

It sounds like you're choosing between the following options:

  • 7/14/12/10/10/18
  • 7/14/14/12/12/16

CON is super valuable for a small-hit-die class such as yourself, but I don't think it's worth trading two points of CHA for two points of CON plus some off-stats. CHA is super important, and if you're going to be making Diplomacy and Bluff checks on behalf of the whole party, you need it to be very high. (Your spell save DC is also important, of course.)

Or, possibly, take a 19

It's perfectly reasonable to have an odd number in your main stat. You'll add +1 to this stat every fourth level, so even if it starts out odd, it'll be even half the time. You might consider doing this:

  • 7/14/14/10/10/17 with 1 point left over

This gets you the two points of CON you wanted, and between levels four and seven you'll be just as well-off as the first build. A lot depends on how long you think the game will run.

In terms of practical experience, I did actually play a sorceress in a Pathfinder game, and she did have a 20 CHA at level one. (I've forgotten how many stat points she started with, though.) I never regretted that decision.

If I played another sorceror, I would choose between 7/14/14/10/7/18 and 7/14/12/12/8/18 (before racial modifiers), depending on how many skill points I expected to need.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "In terms of practical experience".. so you played with the OPs GM? ;) I'd claim that how hard it is for a spell caster to survive depends a great deal on the GM's choices and style. I've been in games where the rather small increase from 18 to 20 would have been rather useless, because I'd have had to reroll a new character probably before the first session was over. Considering that the GM clearly indicated that survivability would be important, I don't see how the advice could be to ignore the GM and go for glass canon. \$\endgroup\$ – Voo Jan 18 '19 at 17:31

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