Iconic Design – Arcanist Knight of the Black Blade

Ever since the magus showed up on the scene, combat magic hasn’t really been the same. While the magus isn’t able to bring down the full force of a pure arcane caster, the arcanist has tricks up its sleeve.

Welcome back to another Iconic Design, I am filling in again this week for Alex. When the magus released, I immediately had a couple of characters in mind that used the class. After playing through my initial builds, I realized that I still wanted to play a full caster; let’s face it, I love full arcane casters most. After the arcanist was released, and I denounced all wizardry from then on, I found all the tools I needed to have a magus with Meteor Swarm capabilities … although it is very much a slow burn to accomplish.

Build Concept

Any information inportant to the build or its roots goes here.

  • Race Any
  • Ability Scores Int (16+), Dex (14+)
  • Class Arcanist, Eldritch Knight, Fighter
  • Archetype Blade Adept
  • Feats Extra Arcanist Exploit, Arcane Armor Training (6th)
  • Class Features
    • Blade Adept Adept Exploits
      • Spell Strike (3rd), Student of the Blade – Finesse (5th), Eldritch Blade (7th)


The main idea with this build, is to recreate a magus while still retaining the ability to cast 9th level spells. We could do this very simply with the Blade Adept archetype for the arcanist. It provides a black blade, spell strike, ways to improve the blade and some magus arcana. This, however, just wets the appetite and leaves me wanting more punch from in combat. The eldritch knight provides the ability to get BAB and Hit Points while also improving your arcane caster level, only requiring access to all martial weapons and 5th level spells as a barrier to entry. When you include the Eldritch Blade adept exploit, you see that your caster level becomes the power behind the black blade and not your class level, which means we now have the ability to mix and match arcane might with combat prowess … if you don’t mind waiting until higher levels to be all mighty and powerful. With the right combination of spells and tactics, you can have a lot of fun testing the limits of your lower level powers as you build up to the big stuff.

While any race will do, I suggest elf so that you can get the Int and Dex bonuses along with racial proficiencies in rapier. The elven racial trait Warriors of Old provides +2 init, which is always helpful for getting into or out of combat as needed. I tend to enjoy shocking grasp, and Draconic Infusion (electricity) ties in well with that. I would offset the Con penalty, though, as you will need your hit points. Also, favored bonus for elf/arcanist is +1 to arcane reservoir, which really helps offset the lowered pool from the blade adept archetype.

Because the arcanist need 6 levels to reach 5th level spells and the eldritch knight doesn’t provide a spellcasting increase with the first level, I highly recommend you don’t take your fighter level between arcanist and eldritch knight. You will have two levels without any spellcasting increase and it will really feel rough to only get a pair of feats as you watch your caster friends move on to a completely new spell level. When you take your fighter level isn’t as important, I just recommend 6th level or earlier. Whichever way you choose, you should be starting Eldritch Knight at 8th level. Optionally, if you want to be closer to an arcane ranger of sorts, then a level of ranger instead of fighter would allow you to gain tracking class features and skills as well as a single favored enemy.

I highly recommend dumping all of your feats into Extra Arcane Exploit so that you can spend them on normal arcanist exploits, blade adept exploits, as well as magus arcana. Through this, you can get a lot of combat oriented feats with your black blade without all the prerequisites (due to the archetype). At first level, you don’t actually have an arcane exploit, and so you will need to spend your first feats elsewhere, which is a good time to pickup anything else you might want for your build concept. I personally chose Improved Initiative. Something about having a +10 init makes me feel like I will always be able to get into or out of trouble as I see fit. Also, spending your fighter bonus feat on arcane armor training will allow you to make use of more armor options than just mage armor and bracers of armor.

With this path in mind, you are going to have a lot of pretty cool arcanist and adept exploits and magus arcana at your disposal. The ones that I find key ingredients are the Spell Strike (touch spells with melee attack), Student of the Blade – Finesse (more reliable ability to hit in combat), and Eldritch Blade (caster level instead of class level for black blade powers). The first and third are kind of the point of this build, but your ability to hit at low levels will be pretty weak, which is why I feel that diving into the finesse feats are important. I have also been able to overcome it in some situations with some tricky spell combos, but they are once per day use at low levels. Using true strike can let you hit if you must and combining it with shocking grasp can really put the hurt on a big bad. I have, on occasion, been known to use mirror strike with shocking grasp as well.

At this point, you continue to level up as an Eldritch Knight and then back to Arcanist afterwards. Between fighter feats from Eldritch Knight and Exploits from converting general feats to Extra Exploits, you will have an impressive collection of skills and powers to go with your (basically) 3/4 BAB and (eventual) 9th level spells. It may be a long road to 20th level, but I consider the sheer versatility of this build to more than make up it.

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him vast amounts of ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, playing with his kids, bowling, or running a PF campaign, Randal is likely writing some new mobile web app to enhance the experience of playing Pathfinder!

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