We are currently level 11 and are planning on going to 20 (maybe 25) and having a final evil boss so there's a lot of room to work with. My current plan for this character is

  • Race: Tiefling +2 dex, +2 Int

  • 2 levels in urban barbarian for uncanny dodge and controlled rage +4 to dex.

  • 1 levels in Mutagenic Fighter for the +4 to dex with mutagen and the extra feat.

  • 1 level in either barbarian= extra rage, fighter= longer mutation +feat

  • 16 levels in Bladebound Kensai Magus= BAB 12

This will give me a total of 16 BAB giving me a fourth attack at 20th level if we decided to have final battle then.

I have a dervish build focusing on Dex and Int with weapon finesse

Dervish Dance Benefit: When wielding a scimitar with one hand, you can use your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier on melee attack and damage rolls. You treat the scimitar as a one-handed piercing weapon for all feats and class abilities that require such a weapon (such as a duelist’s precise strike ability). The scimitar must be for a creature of your size. You cannot use this feat if you are carrying a weapon or shield in your off hand.

So my dilemma is if I should focus my attribute gains to Dex or Int.

Benefits of 2 Dex: +1 dex, +1 initiative(not that I need it with Kensai), +1 weapon damage, +1 Attack Bonus, +1 reflex save

Benefits of 2 Int: +1 dc to spells, +1 arcane pool, +1 skill points, bonus spells, +1 dodge AC (Canny defense), +1 initiative (Iaijutsu), +1 crit confirmation (critical perfection), +1 attack of opportunity a round (Superior Reflexes), +1 weapon damage against flatfooted opponents.

I'm also not sure if I should focus on my Spell DC with my feats or just abandon it for the most part and stick to things to enhance my melee abilities (Greater weapon focus, weapon specialization, blinding critical, ect...). If I go the caster route My GM likes to use high save monsters to avoid encounters ending to quickly so the amount of feats for spell focus, greater spell focus, elemental focus, etc. If there is anything I have overlooked that could help me I would love to know. With Magus having only up to 6th level spells it makes it hard to get DC high enough to consistently beat things with a save of 18+.


2 Answers 2



When optimizing a character, it is key to identify what you will be spending most of your time doing.


In this case, it seems like you want to make a melee character who fights in melee. The problem is, as a Magus, you will be combining spell use with melee attacks, and relying on spells to do your damage or to attach Saving Throw based effects. However, your melee attacks still need to hit to apply these spells. So we need to optimize two things - your to hit and your spell effects.

Why not rely more on melee damage? As a non-Fighter and non-Barbarian and non-Rogue, your melee damage is low. You can't easily use PA to increase your damage as your to-hit is key. Ergo, relying on pure melee damage is a bad idea with this build.


To Hit is made of three parts -

  • Stat added to to-hit
  • spell bonuses and gear bonuses to hit
  • feat bonuses to hit

Spell and gear bonuses are simple - you select spells (such as Haste and Cat's Grace) that give you bonuses to hit and try to have them cast before combat goes up. Additionally, you buy or steal or barter or trade or select items (gloves of dexterity, magical swords, banners, duelist's gauntlets, sashes etc) that increase your to-hit. It's usually fairly binary, and choices between say, a great save or die to apply via sword hits or a spell that increases the chance of hitting, can be decided upon by comparing the great spell to your pre-existing spells, thinking about how often you hit currently, etc.

Stat added to hit is also fairly simple. You want more of the stat that adds itself to your to-hit, within reason, again, by comparing it to other things you might get with the same money.

Feat bonuses are slightly more complex, as some feat chains offer debuffs which can affect to-hit, and computing the result is non-trivial. However, as you aren't a Fighter, you can't afford enough feats to make the Improved Trip line worthwhile (Expertise, Trip 1, Trip 2, Fury's Fall), as you aren't a rogue the Shatter Defenses line isn't worth it, and most of the others aren't great shakes. Weapon Focus is an okay choice as it pays off immediately, doesn't require anything else, and is easy to use with your weapon choice of 'always scimitars'. The Two-Weapon Fighting chain is mandatory. That leaves you with very few feats, so the only real 'bang for buck' feat choice is Dazing Assault. Daze is a great status effect and worth applying.

Spell Effects

Here we start to run into problems. In the proposed build, you have 4 lost caster levels. In a partial casting class like the Magus, that's effectively suicide. Unless there are some vastly powerful low level spells in the Magus list that you are going to be able to rely on, and you're taking the levels in those classes later - which there is no sign that you are, as they appear to be low level dex and BAB boosting classes.

Unless you are going to dual-wield scimitars and take power attack/twf chain etc, I recommend you only take one level instead of four. Taking a second level later might be workable, but 4 levels of delayed casting as a Magus will suck.

If you have 3.5e backwards compatibility, things like the Abjurant Champion prestige class might help you out in getting a better BAB while maintaining your casting progression (although you still lose out on arcane pool and arcana - the only worthwhile things about advancing pure magus).

Now, as for advancing your spell effects, we have two main things to worry about - save DC and damage.

Save DC is increased by int and various feats, none of them amazingly good. Spell Specialization is a good choice, as is spell Focus in a school you have multiple good options in (like Conjuration or Transmutation).

Damage is increased by CL and metamagic feats. The Gifted Adept and Metamagic Master traits are key to increasing the power of a spell you'll use a lot, such as Shocking Grasp. Otherwise Spell Focus, Mage's Tattoo (Varisian Tattoo), Spell Specialization, can all increase your CL. At lower levels, an Empowered Shocking Grasp for 5d6 x 1.5 damage is crazy at level 4 or whatever. At higher levels, an Intensified Empowered Shocking Grasp out of a 2nd level spell slot for 10d6 x 1.5 damage is great in addition to a full attack.

Taking a level in Crossblooded Sorcerer (Draconic/Orc, or anything else that boosts damage) can greatly increase the damage of touch spells you use also.

Once you have all that handled, damage, status effects, how you are applying them, then you can think about ratios of int to dex.

And in this case, mathematically speaking, you want 2 more points of Int than Dex at any one time, but both are important.


The INT bonus is definitely preferable from an optimization standpoint. INT benefits your spellcasting and, especially as you get up to higher levels, spellcasting is king. Moreover, because of your build 1 INT mod is preferable to 1 DEX mod in nearly all circumstances: it gives you initiative, attacks of opportunity, and armor class (3 things you would ordinarily be taking dex for), as well as all the normal benefits of INT, as well as being your primary spellcasting attribute. You have about as much reason to prefer INT to DEX as a single classed wizard looking to specialize in ray-casting.

As for your GM using high-save monsters, it would probably be best just to focus your spellcasting on spells your foes are unlikely to save against, either because they target one of your opponents' low saves (FORT for wizards, REF for Clerics, WILL for Fighters, etc) or don't allow a save at all (e.g. Ice Storm, Black Tentacles, Corrosive Consumption). Int helps with this because it gives you more Spells/day, allowing you to prepare for more potential opponents specifically. Dex does usually help here more, though, because many spells that don't allow a save do so because they require a ranged touch attack instead, and those that use melee touches (which almost never allow a save and have STR based to-hit) are rejected out of hand by most magic users. You, on the other hand, are (at least theoretically) a proficient melee combatant which means you can make use of melee touch attacks in addition to ranged ones and both of these are based off DEX for you.

However, INT grants you an AC bonus and a damage bonus, both of which are generally preferable to a to-hit bonus. Remember that you don't have to use spellstrike and can make normal melee touch attacks (targeting touch AC) if an opponent's AC is too high. Creatures of a given CR can't have all high saves, high AC, high to-hit, and no special vulnerabilities because that would just make them a higher CR monster. You, as a gish, can target any of these areas somewhat and need to focus on targeting whatever area your enemy is weakest in rather than overpowering them regardless of their defenses. Dex helps you land hits v.s. AC, INT helps you with everything else. Furthermore, assuming you do try to just out-DC your opponents, that makes the +1 DC from +1 INT even more valuable, since spell DC must then be a resource you focus on increasing.

As an INT-based spellcaster gish with INT-based mundane combat abilities, you should definitely take INT over DEX.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't read all of the text, but int is definitely the way to go. It gives you more spells per level (which you desperately need) and it gives you more dodge (which you also desperately need). There are more benefits but I can't think of them off the top of my head. I have a rapier wielding bladebound kensai and it's a ton of fun. I went back and forth over dex/int (I started with both at 18 thanks to tiefling) and I concentrated on int after doing all the math. I would take combat feats instead of spell feats, except one or two metamagic will be worthwhile. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 17:16

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