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What I'd like out of the build

The Goal of this Build is to create a Demon/undead focused summoner any and all optimization suggestions should be made with that as the end goal.

This is for pathfinder 1e and is a new character for a campaign starting at level 1 and I am trying to do a full plan on the build from start to level 20.

Things I'd like it to do:

  • Not Die instantly. Pretty basic requirement needs to be able to have the survivability of a normal arcane caster
  • Boost the HD of my summons.
  • Boost the amount of creatures I can summon.
  • Boost the variety of creatures I can summon.
  • Be able to actually stand up to monsters I would face at most levels and contribute to the party in a meaningful way.
  • Be better then a normal Occultist summoner. there'd really be no point in going through the trouble of making a complex build and it being worse than a normal build at what it sets out to do.

What I have so far:

12 levels arcanist (Occulist)/4 levels Souldrinker/4 levels Blackfire adept

Race: Drow Noble

Level plan

Level 1:Arcanist(Occulist) Feat:Spell focus(Conjuration)

Level 2:Arcanist(Occulist)

Level 3:Arcanist(Occulist),Feat:Augment Summoning,Arcanist exploit:Metamagic Knowledge(Quicken spell)

Level 4:Arcanist(Occulist)

Level 5:Arcanist(Occulist)Feat: Superior Summoning,Arcanist exploit:School understanding(Necromancy)

Level 6:Arcanist(Occulist)

Level 7:Arcanist(Occulist)Feat:Augment Calling

Level 8:Darkfire Adept

Level 9:Darkfire adept Feat:Favored prestige class

Level 10:Darkfire adept

Level 11:Darkfire adept Feat: Prestigous spell caster

Level 12:Arcanist(Occulist)

Level 13:Arcanist(Occulist) Feat:Fiendish obedince(Charon) (Evangelist),Arcanist exploit:Arcane Discovery

Level 14:Souldrinker

Level 15:Souldrinker Feat:Favored prestige class

Level 16:Souldrinker

Level 17:Souldrinker,Feat: Prestigious spellcaster

Level 18::Arcanist(Occulist)

Level 19::Arcanist(Occulist)Arcanist exploit:Potent magic

Level 20::Arcanist(Occulist)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are those the order you're taking feats in or just a list of them? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or are you starting a game at 20th level? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 18:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ its just a list. And no We're not starting at 20th level im just setting out the entire build so I can figure out if my idea is viable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Usually a focused build revolves around a gimick or a specific combat trick - then the build is fleshed out to cover weaknesses. It may be simpler to refrase and put - I want to optimize a combat summoner, viable from level 1-20. Put that (Or something similar at the top, in bold) - and You'll start seeing peeps give detailed awnsers after that. - People tend to favor bullet points - then details - and your question has a lot of detail that most TL/DR on. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 22:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ we're using spheres \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 18:16

2 Answers 2

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Optimizing any spellcaster

The most powerful thing in the game you can possibly get is always “the next level of spells.” Ensuring you get that next spell level as soon as possible is step 1 to optimizing any spellcaster.¹ Simply being an arcanist is already questionable, just because (starting at 3rd level) your spellcasting is a level behind a wizard (an arcanist gets 2nd-level spells at 4th; a wizard gets them at 3rd). Missing more spellcasting levels for any reason is always going to be questionable.

For a topical example, D&D 3.5e—which Pathfinder is based on—offered a prestige class called the malconvoker (Complete Scoundrel). The malconvoker missed spellcasting at 1st level, but otherwise had a full spellcasting progression. (D&D 3.5e also didn’t have anything like Prestigious Spellcaster to make up the missing level.) It was focused on summoning evil creatures, and their summon monster spells summoned twice as many evil monsters for twice as long, effectively making them 4× as good (sort of; you rarely really get a lot of use out of the doubled duration on summons). That made the malconvoker maybe worth considering the missed spellcasting—but it was a debatable choice. That is how strong a spellcasting level is.

On the other hand, it must be said from the outset, there is room to be suboptimal here. The wizard is a fantastically overpowered class, and the arcanist is only a bit weaker²—which means it is still pretty overpowered. Plus Prestigious Spellcaster exists—a feat is also a lot to pay, but it’s absolutely worth getting that spellcasting.

On summoning in general

The most important thing for any summoner to do is somehow, someway reduce the 1-round casting time of summoning spells to a full-round action (or less). A 1-round casting time means that you do nothing only turn, and you are extremely vulnerable for an entire round (if you get hit, you almost certainly will lose the spell), and you only get the summon for your next turn. That is really rough, and really not what you want to be doing.

Some tables just houserule it to be a full-round action—or simply misunderstand the rules and think a 1-round casting time is a full-round action. That’s the best thing, since it costs you nothing. Failing that, you’ll want Sacred Summons—which your build gets from blackfire adept, but that is immensely painful prior to 6th level. You also have Quicken Spell, which works, but is far too pricey for this purpose (better to buy a quicken metamagic rod, IMO).

Arcanist

Arcanist has the weaker spell progression of a sorcerer, but gets to switch up their spells daily like a cleric or wizard, making them somewhere in between the two classes. Ultimately, cleric or wizard is stronger because they get each spell level from 2nd on a class level earlier, and that’s huge. Also, the exploiter wizard exists, so if you really want certain exploits, you can get them.

On the other hand, the occultist is pretty good. The planar ally spells are pretty strong, contact other plane is very strong and you get it way early, and conjurer’s focus allowing you to cast summon monster on-time goes a certain way towards mitigating the delay on your other spells—plus, bonus, they’re standard actions when cast this way, which is a big deal. However, the limitation of only one summon monster spell at a time is significant here, and ultimately your arcane reservoir is a lot more limited than your spell slots, so you won’t be summoning as much this way. But it’s enough to get you to 6th level and Sacred Summons.

You might want to consider the wizard class, specifically the Familiar Folio pact wizard archetype (not the Haunted Heroes archetype of the same name). In addition to the spellcasting that’s a level ahead, the pact wizard gets an aura, Sacred Summons as a bonus feat at 1st level, and (eventually) an improved familiar for free. So it’s fairly similar to a blackfire adept, but without having to actually take the prestige class. You’re limited to a single subtype of summon, though, which is painful—choose carefully.

The other option—and probably the winner here—is the cleric, which (obviously) gets an aura, and can thus take Sacred Summons at any time. Moreover, there’s an archetype that’s really good for summoning: not the herald caller, which claims to be all about summoning but is kinda meh, but the evangelist, which gets bardic performance. Bardic performance is best when you have things to buff with it—and summoning ensures you will. Action conflict is tricky, but in any situation where you can pre-buff, this is golden.

Blackfire Adept

This is a weird one. If you don’t have an aura, this is how you get Sacred Summons—that probably is worth the price of entry, but compared to a pact wizard or cleric, who could have just had Sacred Summons for 5 levels already, without having to burn two feats on Favored Prestige Class and Prestigious Spellcaster, it’s not looking like a winner. Blackfire pact is pretty good, for improving planar ally and/or binding, but this benefit is already a feat (Augment Calling), so you’re effectively paying 2 feats for what is otherwise 1 feat, so again, blackfire adept still looks poor compared to a pact wizard or cleric. (Augment Calling and blackfire pact do stack though, so that’s pretty nice.)

What might save blackfire adept—maybe—are the breach and breaching legion features. Those require another lost spellcasting level—read: another feat burned on Prestigious Spellcaster—but breach is a rather unique effect. It’s extremely situational—those effects are rather rare in my experience—but when you need it, nothing else will do. So it becomes a question of how often you’re going to use it. If it’s only once or twice a campaign, then giving up three feats is dubious. If it’s going to happen more than that, though, it could easily be worth it.

But unless I knew the campaign was going to feature a lot of dead magic zones or antimagic fields, I wouldn’t bother—I’d prefer cleric or wizard. If you’re set on the arcanist, though, then yeah, this is how you’d do it. Definitely take at least 8 levels (and a second iteration of Prestigious Spellcaster), though. I would strongly consider taking all 10 (and a third Prestigious Spellcaster), because riftward breaching is pretty good too.

Souldrinker

Your build has a couple of critical mistakes with respect to this class:

  1. You don’t actually qualify. You need Great Fortitude, and you don’t have it. I can’t blame you, I wouldn’t want to take Great Fortitude either, but it’s non-optional if you want to be a souldrinker.

  2. You can’t—officially—take Favored Prestige Class twice. All feats are limited to only being taken once unless it has a Special section that says otherwise, and Favored Prestige Class doesn’t. That means you can’t use Prestigious Spellcaster to restore souldrinker’s lost spellcasting—and that makes the class absolutely awful for you.

    The official rule here is stupid, and you could ask your GM for a houserule to let you take it more than once—which they should allow—but the official rule is the rule unless your GM agrees to do otherwise.

However, the point is kind of moot, even assuming you fix 1 and get a favorable houserule for 2: I’m not loving this class—particularly for you. Nothing here helps summoning, and you need to burn two more feats on Favored Prestige Class and Prestigious Spellcaster, plus you need Great Fortitude, which sucks. Charon evangelist is definitely The Way to Go™ here, so you’re right on how you want to use it, but to leverage that you would need to focus on item creation, not summoning.

I would much, much rather finish blackfire adept and have a feat left over than try to force this class into the build. And again, you need to take more levels of this to make your investment in it worthwhile—particularly with Charon, you want that second boon, but unless you take 6 levels of souldrinker—and therefore take Prestigious Spellcaster again—you’re not getting it any faster than anyone else who took Fiendish Obedience.

Feats

First of all, a note: your build doesn’t include Great Fortitude, which is required for souldrinker. So that’s an issue. Great Fortitude is a terrible feat, too, so having to take it is a pretty big drawback of that class. Worse, officially, you can’t take Favored Prestige Class in more than one prestige class, so you can’t get Prestigious Spellcaster for both blackfire adept and souldrinker.

  • Spell Focus (Conjuration)—probably useless to you (summons don’t have save DCs; actually, most conjurations of any stripe don’t), but required by a bunch of things you do want, so you’ll have to pay your taxes.

  • Augment Summoning—yes, it’s a good feat.

  • Quicken Spell—useless as early as you’re getting it. Eventually, quickening things is valuable, but it’s a very high-level trick unless you have some way to reduce or mitigate the spell level adjustment (which, as far as I can tell, you do not).

    I would strongly consider whether or not I could just get away with a quicken metamagic rod here. They’re expensive, but then so is 4 spell levels.

    Finally also note that quickening—whether with the feat or the rod—becomes much more important as an evangelist, since you can cast a quickened summon monster spell in the same turn you start inspire courage.

  • Superior Summoning—not great. Summoning a bunch of lower-level monsters is almost never what you want to do, and so getting one more when you do that isn’t exciting. You’ll rarely use it and the benefit isn’t that great even when you do.

  • Augment Calling—this is pretty great. Definitely get this. You might even want to take it more than once to hit more subtypes, depending. Stacks with the blackfire adept’s blackfire pacts, which is nice.

  • Favored Prestige Class—OK, ish, but not so much when you’re only taking 4 levels.

  • Prestigious Spellcaster—absolutely mandatory if you lose spellcasting to a prestige class. But a feat is also a significant cost. The blackfire adept is probably worth it. The souldrinker? Less convinced.

  • Fiendish Obedience—required for souldrinker, and not bad in its own right. Charon evangelist is pretty much the Correct™ use of the feat for one, too, so you’re right about that. But you need to do some item creation if you want to leverage Charon here.

So I would drop Superior Summoning, and either drop Fiendish Obedience, or take some item creation feats—probably Craft Wondrous Item, maybe Craft Magic Arms and Armor, maybe Craft Rod or Craft Staff. But that feels like it’s getting away from summoning, to me, though you can buy it back by crafting items that improve summoning.

I’d also probably drop souldrinker, even if allowed to make it work, and thus save three or more feats (Great Fortitude, Favored Prestige Class, and Prestigious Spellcaster). If I’m an arcanist, I’d give one—if not two—of those back by taking more Prestigious Spellcasters for blackfire adept, though I’m personally more likely to do this as a single-classed evangelist cleric (at which point I’m taking feats relating to bardic performance).


  1. And, by extension, optimizing any character, since spellcasters are optimal by a huge margin.

  2. Specifically, assuming they are the same level, the arcanist is a bit stronger for 60% of levels (when both arcanist and wizard have the same level of spells), but much weaker the other 40% of the time (when wizards have spells a level higher). See here for a full discussion.

  3. Referring to the updated—nerfed—version of the class. There is an older version that is much, much more powerful, but since it’s out of date you usually won’t be allowed to play it. Also, shout-out to the create item ability from soul pool—that one is pretty good, especially for Charon.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ its not really a drow noble its a custom race that strongly resembles drow noble in every way but it has static feat for great fortitude \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought superior summoning just allowed you to summon double the amount of the same creature. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ i also just realized i haven't picked out a feat for level 19 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Worldlysage That kind of detail should be edited into your question. Anyway, even with Great Fortitude as a bonus feat, you still have to check with the GM on having two Favored Prestige Classes, and even if they let you, I’m not sure it’s worth it. As for Superior Summoning, no, that would be a great feat but it isn’t what you get. Instead, only when you choose to summon multiple lower-level monsters, you get one extra. So if you cast summon monster III to summon a dretch, Superior Summoning does nothing. If you use summon monster III summon 1d3 lemures, though, you get 1d3+1 instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ well in that case I'll pick up two item creation feats and keep fiendish obedience and drop superior summoning \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 15:13
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Alter Summoned Monster + Mount

This is the cheesiest easiest way of being a great Summoner. Use the Mount spell to summon My Little Pony™, and then use Alter Summoned Monster to turn the pony into the creature you actually wanted to summon. As you gain levels, use the Heighten Spell metamagic to increase the spell level of the Mount spell to get access to the higher levels of the Summon Monster spell's list. For example, a pony summoned with Heightened (+4) Mount (5th-level spell) can be turned into any creature from the Summon Monster V list.

The Mount spell has a duration of 2 hours/CL, so as your caster level increases, you only need to cast these spells once per day or when your summon dies. This avoids the entire hassle of reducing the cast time of summon spells (e.g. Sacred Summons feat). You can also go for Spell Perfection for Mount or Alter Summoned Monster later to easily add metamagics like Echoing, Scouting Summons, or Quickened.

Since this requires extremely few resources to pull off, your build can focus on other things you desire, like necromancy, viability, or damage.


Spheres

Since your group is using the Spheres System (Wiki), you can actually pull off summoning both demons and undead. The Conjuration sphere allows you to invest in building a strong demonic companion, while the Death sphere grants you dominion over the undead and the Ghost Strike ranged touch attacks. And advanced talents (if available) open up Planar Ally spells without the expensive material costs.

This requires a lot of magic talents, so an Incanter would be the best choice, also gaining up to 11 bonus feats to power up his magic abilities (or get item creation feats). There's no need to take any specialization, just buy a Lattice of Knowledge at level 10+ to stop paying spell points for avoiding concentration: encounters usually don't last longer than 6 rounds, so at level 10 you'll already have 6 rounds of your summon without any concentration. However, you can also remain an Occultist Arcanist and take the Sphere Arcanist archetype.

It's worth looking into sphere-specific drawbacks to get cheap access to limited effects, for example taking the Bodily Enhancement drawback for a free Enhancement sphere effect that can be applied to your summons with the Exceptional Ally dual feat.


Tricks for normal PF

At high levels, you can waste 1st-level spell-slots on the Lucky Number spell until you roll a 1-3 (or 1-4), and then use the +2 luck bonus to increase number of creatures you summon with a Summon Monster spell from a lower spell level, e.g. Summon Monster V can normally summon 1d3 creatures from the Summon Monster IV list or 1d4+1 creatures from the Summon Monster III list. Empower Spell & Maximize Spell affect the number of creatures summoned from a lower spell level as well, but that's usually not worth it unless you have Spell Perfection or a similar ability.

Spirit of Wine is a cheap (3 gp) material component for extending the duration of your summons by raising the caster level by +1. Worth it especially at lower levels.

A Varisian Idol (75 gp) is a more expensive material component, but raises the hit points of your summoned monsters by +2 per HD. If the repeated gold cost is a problem, the False Focus feat can take care of that, and even the onyx costs for up to 4 HD undead from Animate Dead.

All Drow, including Drow Nobles, count as Elves, since they have the "Humanoid" type with the racial subtype "Elf". This qualifies you for everything an Elf can choose, including taking alternate racial traits from the Elf list (provided you have the requisite standard racial trait). You can choose the Illustrious Urbanite art in place of your Keen Senses, giving you the Spell Focus Conjuration without paying a feat. (The same is true for Half-Elves.)

Shadow Conjuration (Greater Shadow Conjuration, Shades) allows you to "summon" a creature with a standard action instead of a 1-round cast time. These are shadow illusions, so they have lower hit points (only 20%, or 60% for the greater version), but they deal full damage unless an opponent is able to disbelief them. Note that you are not automatically allowed a Will save to disbelief unless you spend an action to interact with the creature. Even if you don't use these spells for summons, they're still extremely versatile and useful, along with Shadow Evocation, so worth preparing. You could even play a versatile illusionist who specializes in shadow spells and then raise the "realness" of the illusory creature/object. This is quite powerful even though you wouldn't be "a real summoner".


Added Summonings

There is a way to get the effect you desired out of Superior Summoning, but it's expensive at 4 feats:

  1. Take Skill Focus or Exotic Heritage for the Knowledge (Planes) skill.
  2. Take Eldritch Heritage for the Abyssal bloodline, or Brutal wild bloodline at level 3+. (I recommend the Abyssal Bloodline Familiar instead of Claws.)
  3. Take Improved Eldritch Heritage at level 11+. (I recommend the wildbloodline's Wings.)
  4. Take Greater Eldritch Heritage at level 17+ for Added Summonings.

Then you can summon an additional demon (or fiendish-templated creature) with your summons, including when summoned at the highest level, e.g. 2 Vrock demons with Summon Monster VII.

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