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I am making a new magus. Here are the things that are set in stone for campaign/preference/story reasons:

  • Race - Elf
  • Ability Scores - 15 Point Buy
  • Archetype - Blade Bound (others are also welcome)
  • Traits - 3 available, I've selected Ancestral Weapon and Magical Lineage (shocking grasp).
  • Drawback - Proud
  • Starting Spells - Shocking Grasp, Silent Image, Grease, Color Spray, Obscuring Mist
  • Alternate Racial Features - Moon Kissed (replacing keen senses and elven immunities).
  • Campaign Info - Starting at level 1, very committed group of players, intending to play to level 20.
  • Other PCs - 4-5 players. No 9-level spellcaster classes. I'm assuming I'll have at least one other fighter type. Otherwise I don't know.

I am trying to decide whether to go for a build that dumps strength in favor of weapon finesse and dancing dervish, or go for a build that balances strength with the other ability scores and frees up the feat slots.

I don't have a strong preference in terms of flavor, so I am letting optimization guide that decision.

My preferences generally in character design are:

  • Efficient and well put together.
  • No cheese.
  • Having a toolbox to deal with lots of options as opposed to a single hammer.
  • Is fun to play at every level.

For this character, while I have those preferences, I am also focusing on burst damage and DPR in combat. Given that he will be melee range, survivability will also be a valued factor.

Given that, what are the pros and cons of a dex build vs a str build and which will be more able to fulfill my goals for the character?

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    \$\begingroup\$ 4-5 players. No 9-level spell casters. I'm assuming I'll have at least one other fighter type. Otherwise I don't know. \$\endgroup\$ – JoshuaD Feb 9 at 23:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ We're going to need something defining "stronger" to you before we can even attempt to answer this. Are you talking about the RPG Tiers (where utility is king)? DPR and/or sustained/nova damage? Survivability? Ability to call for the Nine gods of Muspellheim and ride the golden chariot? \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Feb 10 at 4:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Do you want to optimize X, Y or Z? - Yes"... errrh, the or was a keyword here, since these three things are not the same. \$\endgroup\$ – Nyakouai Feb 10 at 9:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is being discussed on meta: rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/q/9732/52137 \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Feb 10 at 18:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I voted to leave this question closed because I think that some limitations (fun, varied etc) are still too vague and should be narrowed down, but I think it is almost there. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Feb 12 at 0:40
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The advantage of a Strength-based magus is that it avoids some of the disadvantages of a Dexterity-based magus. The disadvantage is that it also misses out on the advantages of a Dexterity-based magus. This is tautological, but I introduce things this way because Strength is the default, and aside from being the default and therefore not requiring any investment, Strength has no real advantages for a magus. After all, a magus cannot use a two-handed weapon,1 which is the only real way to make Strength shine.

So then, the disadvantage of being Dexterity-based is that you have to expend character-creation resources in order to become Dexterity-based, i.e. take the Weapon Finesse feat. Once you have taken the Weapon Finesse feat, your weapon damage is poor, since you are doing this to dump Strength. Shocking grasp arguably says you don’t care, but if you do, that means you also take Dervish Dance,2 Fencing Grace,2 or Slashing Grace,2 or wield an agile weapon.

So the Dexterity-based magus is down a feat and a +1-enhancement equivalent on their weapon, or down two feats. Assuming you don’t lose your weapon, the weapon route is the better deal, but you would have to judge that risk yourself—and a bladebound magus, obnoxiously, wouldn’t have the option. What do you get for your expense?

  • You will be more accurate, and if you get Dexterity-to-damage, you will also deal more damage. That is, your Dexterity will be higher than your Strength would be on a Strength-based magus, because you can completely ignore Strength while a Strength-based magus really should have at least decent Dexterity. Without a two-handed weapon, Strength has no advantage to offset this benefit.

  • Your initiative is much improved. This is huge, because in most combats initiative will easily be the single most important roll you make. They will be decided primarily by who goes first. This becomes especially true at higher levels, where the game becomes increasingly rocket tag.3

  • You get substantially more AC, to the point that keeping your AC relevant becomes a meaningful, if expensive, option. Most characters at mid-to-high levels cannot afford enough AC to make it worthwhile, and should optimally end up basically ignoring it after the basic bonuses from a +1 armor. A Dexterity-focused character in light armor is just about the only exception.

  • Your skills will quite simply be better. Climb is worthless once you have flight—which you should—and Swim comes up rarely, if at all, in most campaigns. Meanwhile, Acrobatics and Stealth are two of the best skills in the game.

So, are all of those worth a feat or two? Generally speaking, yes, they are. Feats are very valuable, but that is a lot of benefit. There are not a lot of feats that could offer so much.

That said, there are also some really powerful feats out there. You will have to look at your build and decide if another feat or two could add even more than all of that.


  1. There’s an argument that a magus can use a two-handed weapon—I’ve made it myself, here—but I’m largely going to ignore it on the basis of your request to avoid cheese. It doesn’t really change my conclusions, but it becomes harder to speak definitively in that case.

  2. Unless you are forced to take Weapon Focus for something else, Dervish Dance is the best option here. No weapon option available to you is worth having to burn a feat on Weapon Focus for.

  3. The game is actually most “rocket tag” at 1st level, but that’s irrelevant to the question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The only thing a magus might want more would be Metamagic feats... but even that is dubious with 6th level casting cap. I've seen non-Dex builds with non-negligible AC but they're the exception not the rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Feb 12 at 2:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso Agreed on metamagic being the obvious competition, and even then being dubious; that was my thought also. As for AC, how severe the problems non-Dexterity builds have with AC depends on the exact level we’re discussing, but for big chunks of the game if you aren’t Dexterity focused, AC isn’t going to be worth it. There are some levels where it’s not actually even possible, based on WBL, to get good AC without Dexterity. (I will note the analysis I have in mind may not have considered AC-enhancing class features, so there may yet be exceptions—but none that good come to mind.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 12 at 2:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another con to the dex-based build as an elf when using a scimitar: you will suck at combat levels 1 and 2, until you get access to dervish dance, or you will have to not use your ancestral weapon for those two levels, in favor of a finesse weapon instead. \$\endgroup\$ – JoshuaD Feb 12 at 18:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaD Sure... though I wouldn’t really recommend elf here, which opens up the (far superior) option of human to get around that. But anyway, since the black blade doesn’t become available until 3rd level, it’s pretty reasonable to just use something finesseable until 3rd level and then just use the black-blade scimitar you get at 3rd. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 12 at 20:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaD As for Ancestral Weapon, I had missed that... Ancestral Weapon is a pretty poor trait, and a dubious choice with bladebound magus (black blades can be “passed down generation to generation in an ongoing search for a magus who can unlock its true potential,” but it’s not clear that they can be cold iron or silver, so definitely clear that with your GM first). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Feb 12 at 20:04

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