A Guide to the Spellslinger (Pathfinder)
While it wins the award for “best art” in Ultimate Combat, the spellslinger archetype (p. 74) is a little confusing. It does its best to make the concept of a “wizard with a gun” work, but it has a few small issues that can make it difficult to work with. With that being said, you can still build an effective spellslinger—you just need to remember that you’re a wizard and not a gunslinger, and that means you’re going to approach using your gun in very different ways. Let’s take a look the spellslinger’s abilities, and then we’ll look at things a bit more closely to get some ideas on how to make an effective one.
The core of the spellslinger is wrapped up in arcane gun. At 1st level, instead of an arcane bond, the spellslinger can designate either a single firearm or two firearms (chosen at first level) as an arcane gun. Using an arcane gun, the spellslinger can cast ranged touch attack, cone, line, and ray spells through the weapon, letting her add the gun’s enhancement bonus (if any) to the spell’s ranged attack roll or the DC of its saving throw. If, at first level, the spellslinger decides to have only one arcane gun, spells she casts through it have a x3 critical modifier. That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me. There are some more details regarding misfires for an arcane gun that I won’t bore you with here—you can get the full story on that in Ultimate Combat itself or online at Paizo’s Pathfinder Reference Document.
The spellslinger also trades her ability to scribe scrolls for the Gunsmith feat, giving her a battered gun at 1st level and the ability to craft firearms and ammunition. Most of the “gun” archetypes get this in some form or another, and the spellslinger’s no exception.
The spellslinger’s other ability, mage bullets, replaces her cantrips (she learns detect magic and read magic as 1st level spells, but otherwise has no access to cantrips). In essence, she can sacrifice a spell slot to add an enhancement bonus of the spell slot’s level to her arcane gun. She can also use this bonus to add a number of special abilities (like flaming and spell storing). This ability is generally going to be more useful for a spellslinger that multiclasses with gunslinger and goes into eldritch knight, since a straight wizard isn’t going to be very effective trying to full attack with her arcane gun. However, she can still use this to give her spells a boost since her arcane gun’s enhancement bonus does affect them, so it can still be situationally useful for even a single-classed spellslinger.
You might be thinking that, so far, the spellslinger seems to be giving up very little for the ability to increase the save DCs of her spells in a way that no other wizard can. You’d be right, and Paizo agrees, which is why the spellslinger replaces the normal ability to specialize in an arcane school with school of the gun. This requires the spellslinger to choose four opposed schools (rather than than the normal two)! That’s a pretty hefty price to pay, all things considered, but don’t forget that you can still prepare spells from opposed schools (for an extra spell slot), and you’re also still able to use wands and scrolls of any spells from these schools you might need in a pinch.
Spells for Your Arcane Gun
Now, it’s important to have a good idea of the spells you can use with your arcane gun. After all, that’s the entire reason you’re taking this archetype. You’ll notice that the applicable spells put some emphasis on nuking, which isn’t the wizard’s greatest strength, but the spellslinger’s a bit better at it thanks to the higher save DCs of her spells when they’re channeled through her gun. Here’s list of spells that work with the arcane gun, including those from the Advanced Player’s Guide, Ultimate Magic, and Ultimate Combat:
1st-Level: burning hands, color spray, ray of enfeeblement, ray of sickening (UM)
2nd-Level: acid arrow, fire breath (APG), gust of wind, scorching ray
3rd-Level: pellet blast (UC), lightning bolt, ray of exhaustion
4th-Level: dragon’s breath (APG), river of wind, shout, enervation, fear
5th-Level: acidic spray (UM), cone of cold, waves of fatigue
6th-Level: cold ice strike (UM), contagious flame (APG), disintegrate
7th-Level: prismatic spray, waves of exhaustion
8th-Level: polar ray, greater shout
9th-Level: clashing rocks (APG), meteor swarm, energy drain
That’s not a whole lot of spells, and that’s part of why I mentioned that you need to remember you’re a wizard if you’re going to play a spellslinger. Just because you can shoot some spells through your gun doesn’t mean you only want to cast spells through your gun. There are a lot of really good spells out there (like haste and black tentacles) that you’re still quite capable of using as a spellslinger, and there’s no good reason that you shouldn’t use them.
With that in mind, we can talk about your four opposed schools. Looking at the list above, you can see a lot of evocation spells, and a handful of conjuration and necromancy spells. Abjuration, divination, enchantment, illusion, and transmutation don’t have a lot of spells that work for your arcane gun, so you’ll probably want to choose your four schools from those. Personally, I like to keep transmutation, as there are a lot of cool spells that deal with gunpowder in Ultimate Combat that really fit the spellslinger’s flavor. However, all of these schools have a lot of useful spells in them, so keep in mind the needs of your group (is there another arcane spellcaster, for instance) when making the decision on the last school you hang on to. And don’t forget that you can still use scrolls and wands for your opposed schools to get around having to prepare two slots for them!
With all of that in mind, here’s an example spellslinger. Just like so many other archetypes and classes, this example’s not meant to be some kind of gospel truth—you can change it depending on your available schools, and the needs of your group.
Elven Spellslinger 5
Ability Scores (15 Point Buy): Str 8, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 17, Wis 10, Cha 8
1 Spell Focus (evocation)
3 Spell Specialization (scorching ray)
5 Spell Penetration, Extend Spell (bonus)
Though I wouldn’t normally recommend Spell Specialization, since you’re probably going to be casting more blasting spells than normal, it gives you a bit of an edge there (and it’s especially nice for scorching ray at 5th level). At later levels, you’ll want to change the spell to a better blasting one (such as cone of cold or contagious flame). Spell Penetration works very well with the elf’s racial traits, and you’re not going to be able to avoid spell resistance if you really want to make use of your arcane gun. Extend Spell is the first metamagic feat just about any wizard should take, and the spellslinger’s no exception. Your spell selection should include at least some buffing spells (which ones will depend on your opposed schools), so you can still make good use of it. You could also take Empower Spell here, but it’s not that useful until later levels when you have higher level spell slots.
Those are the basics on the spellslinger. There are other things you can do with it that I won’t go into detail, like taking 1 level of spellslinger and then going into sorcerer for more flexibility with your blasting or taking some levels of gunslinger and going into eldritch knight for a spellslinger more focused shooting enhanced bullets (via mage bullets). Staying single-classed is likely to offer you the most flexibility, though, and that’s one of the best things you can have in a Pathfinder game.
More by this Author
An overview of the master of many styles archetype from Ultimate Combat and a sample build.
I take a look at the hexcrafter magus archetype, as well as highlight some hexes that are interesting choices. At the end, as usual, you'll find a small sample build.
An in-depth look at Pathfinder's fighter and what you can do to make sure you're a solid asset to your group. This guide takes a look at several common fighter types (based on fighting style) and provides sample builds...