Iconic Design: Arcane Trickster Redux

Welcome to Iconic Design, Private Sanctuary’s source for innovative and evocative character builds for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be looking at a build for a new and improved arcane trickster build.

The last time I did an arcane trickster build, it relied on the old, “Spell-like abilities are spells,” ruling, and was invalidated when that ruling changed. That sucked. Thankfully, in the meantime my fellow Paizo freelancers and I have been hard at work under the guidance and permission of our fearless developer, Owen K.C. Stephens, slowly giving you more ways to use some of the existing prestige classes with a bit more style and playability. Few prestige classes needed this love and attention more than the arcane trickster, and I’m delighted to say that now, about a year after my original arcane trickster build, I am BACK with a fully-functional arcane trickster that will make you SUPER excited.

Yes, SUPER excited. Let’s see!

Build Concept

Here’s what we’re going to use to make this build work.

  • Race: Race doesn’t really matter for this build; none of the favored class bonuses will come into play, and there’s nothing you need that’s racially basted. I’m going to assume that you’re not human for this build so what you pick can be more universally applied; if you go human, take a bonus feat. Go on, you deserve it.
  • Rogue (Unchained): Obviously, we’re going with the unchained rogue here. Granted, we’re only going to be taking a single level of rogue, but who cares? Unchained nets you a little bit more than standard, so we’ll take it gladly.
  • Wizard (Exploiter Wizard): This is one of Perram’s favorite archetypes and the game, and for good reason. It essentially takes a shiny new arcanist class feature and slaps it onto a class that gets new spell levels sooner than its case class. There really isn’t anything to miss from the arcanist, save its awesome spellcasting method. (Okay, so there’s something.)

With that out of the way, let’s look at this build!

Early Levels (1–7)

  • Classes: wizard (exploiter wizard) 3, unchained rogue 1, arcane trickster 3
  • Feats: Scribe Scroll (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Weapon Finesse (Bonus), Accomplished Sneak Attacker (3rd), Precise Shot (5th), Improved Initiative (7th)
  • Abilities: arcane reservoir, exploiter exploits, finesse training, impromptu sneak attack 1/day, ranged legerdemain, sneak attack +2d6, trapfinding
  • Exploits: potent magic (1st)
  • Traits: Magical Knack (wizard) + one other

So you’re going to need to take your rogue level before 4th level so you can qualify for this class in time. (You need sneak attack to qualify for Accomplished Sneak Attacker, which will boost your dice high enough to qualify for arcane trickster.) Whenever you want to take it is fine; entirely up to you.

So, let’s talk about your spell selection as a wizard. First, you’re likely going to want something that enables you to make use of all those sneak attack damage dice; good choices include shocking grasp and chill touch as baseline spells; a good shocking grasp spell does a fair bit of damage (5d6 + sneak attack, if you’re flanking) while chill touch enables you to make multiple attacks with a single spell. I would go as far as saying that chill touch should likely be a stable of your build, complete with a rod of lesser elemental spell so you should shift its energy damage around based upon what you encounter. Scorching ray is also a fantastic damage-dealing spell, and will likely end encounters should you go first.

Now, let’s talk about buff spells. Typically when you go arcane trickster, you want to focus on “trickstery” spells because the arcane trickster’s spell progression lags so heavily behind that of a full, unmulticlassed caster. Not so with this build; you are literally only one level behind a wizard, or on-par with a sorcerer. Your caster level doesn’t even take a hit because you have the magical knack trait. So with this in mind, its safe to say that you can decimate your enemies if you want to, and that’s what I aim to do with this build. What’s the best way to do this? A little 2nd level spell from the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. This incredible spell basically gives you +1d6 sneak attack, plus an additional +1d6 for every 3 caster levels you possess (up to +5d6). AND IT STACKS WITH YOUR SNEAK ATTACK DAMAGE.

Did I get your attention? Yes, it STACKS. When you get this spell at wizard 3, you’re already looking at +1d6 to your sneak attack dice. When you reach the end of the early levels at Level 7, you’re looking at +2d6 sneak attack damage dice for 1 round/level each time you cast this spell. And as a level 2 spell, its still well within the “lesser rod of quicken spell” range. AWESOME.

So, you have incredible damage potential with your two-ray scorching ray (two 4d6 rays that sneak attack for +3d6 each, plus an extra +2d6 each on the first ray if you have sense vitals up). Now you just need to make enemies flat-footed. Well, we’re sadly 1 level short of being able to cast greater invisibility (the ultimate spell) at this point in the game, but there is another opportunity that your allies will love. Blind them.

Yes, blind them. Blast them with glitter dust. Hit them with blindness/deafness. Do whatever you need to do so your target cannot see. Hell, use your awesome potent magic exploit to blow arcane points to add +2 to the save DC of those spells. Because a target that is blinded is flat-footed, and for you, flat-footed means DEATH. And as I mentioned, everyone loves a flat-footed enemy. Because they die fast.

Feat-wise, this build takes what it needs to do its job. Point-Blank Shot and Precise Shot enable it to fire rays with accuracy without missing, while Improved Initiative and a good Dexterity score help you go first to take advantage of flat-footed enemies. Accomplished Sneak Attacker is a must for this build, it boosts your sneak attack damage by +1d6 so you can qualify for arcane trickster.

And with all this under wraps, let’s look at the mid levels!

Mid Levels (8 –14)

  • Classes: wizard (exploiter wizard) 3, unchained rogue 1, arcane trickster 10
  • Feats: Scribe Scroll (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Weapon Finesse (Bonus), Accomplished Sneak Attacker (3rd), Precise Shot (5th), Improved Initiative (7th), Extra Impromptu Sneak Attack (9th), Extra Impromptu Sneak Attack (11th), Extra Impromptu Sneak Attack (13th)
  • Abilities: arcane reservoir, exploiter exploits, finesse training, impromptu sneak attack 2/day, invisible thief, ranged legerdemain, surprise spells, sneak attack +6d6, trapfinding, tricky spells 5/day
  • Exploits: potent magic (1st)
  • Traits: Magical Knack (wizard) + one other

First, it is AWESOME that you can get your capstone by the end of the mid levels with this build. Second: Extra Impromptu Sneak Attack. This feat is Dirty Tactics Toolbox GOLD! GOLD I SAY! Each time you take the feat, you can use impromptu sneak attack one additional time per day. Yes, that’s right. One additional scorching ray of DEATH. One additional disintegrate of DEATH. A well-timed impromptu sneak attack is basically you flashing your death card, and with this ability you don’t even need to blind your target or go first. You just destroy stuff. It is beautiful.

And if that wasn’t enough, now you have invisible thief rounds. You can, up to 10 rounds per day (at 14th level), become invisible as greater invisibility. Since you can do this as a FREE action (yes, FREE action), I like to call this the, “Super Mega Oh My God Why Did It Have to Be the Face,” attack. Because until 9th level, you’re basically relying on those blindness spells and those impromptu sneak attacks to get the jump done. But invisible thief takes that idea and says, “Hey, you know what would be really cool? If you cast a quickened scorching ray with your metamagic rod and a regular scorching ray as a spell, and both of them were sneak attacks.”

Yes, theoretical me, that would be super cool. That, and going invisible with invisible thief and then dropping a sneak attack cone of cold or a sneak attack fireball.

Yes, arcane trickster. Welcome home. You were missed.

Endgame (15+)

  • Classes: wizard (exploiter wizard) 9, unchained rogue 1, arcane trickster 10
  • Feats: Scribe Scroll (Bonus), Point-Blank Shot (1st), Weapon Finesse (Bonus), Accomplished Sneak Attacker (3rd), Precise Shot (5th), Improved Initiative (7th), Extra Impromptu Sneak Attack (9th), Extra Impromptu Sneak Attack (11th), Extra Impromptu Sneak Attack (13th), FREEBIE (15th), FREEBIE (17th), FREEBIE (Bonus), Improved Familiar (19th)
  • Abilities: arcane reservoir, exploiter exploits, finesse training, impromptu sneak attack 2/day, invisible thief, ranged legerdemain, surprise spells, sneak attack +6d6, trapfinding, tricky spells 5/day
  • Exploits: potent magic (1st), quick study (4th), familiar (8th)
  • Traits: Magical Knack (wizard) + one other

You know, when you do as much damage as I’ve already promised that you’ll do, its really hard to pick feats that matter. Chances are by the end game, you’ve already picked an array of spells that help you deal with things like energy resistance, energy immunities, and spell resistance, which are going to be your big three, “Oh-craps” as an arcane trickster. So really, take whatever you want for these last three levels. If it were I, I’d likely take Spell Penetration, Greater Spell Penetration, and Weapon Focus (ray), but that’s just my preferences. By this point in the game, you’re basically a god. The only thing you don’t have that a straight-class wizard would is the incredibly powerful arcane school capstone (and an extra 9th level spell per day), but the trade offs you make are excellent in your favorite.

Don’t get me wrong, this build isn’t flawless. The straight wizard is much better at control, and has access to more spells per day. This build, however, does have its advantages. For one, that 1d3+7d6 ray of frost was pretty scary BEFORE you went ahead and cast sense vitals. The ability to do 7d6 sneak attack damage with your black tentacles is also fairly terrifying. I don’t think that this is the best wizard build in the world; it certainly needs time to get going, but MAN, doesn’t it look fun!

What do you think? Would you use this build? Or have I utterly used and abused the arcane trickster? What do you like and what don’t you like, and are there any other prestige classes you’d like to see me try and tackle next? Leave your answers and comments below, and I’ll see you next week for another installment of Guidance! Take care.

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at http://www.everybodygames.net, or support him personally on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg.


  1. Min

    On a slight tangent, I’ve always felt like the SLA ruling was one of the best examples of how the folks at Paizo didn’t have a good grasp on game balance no matter how hard they tried to say they did. Anybody who hung out on the official WotC message boards back in 3.5 days could tell you that letting SLAs count as spells only opened up the door for broken cheese.

    Otherwise, this is a pretty neat build. Arcane Trickster is one of the tougher PRCs to make viable, and this looks like it’d actually be pretty fun to play.

  2. Ben

    This is definitely a build I would play. I’m hoping to actually give something like this a try in the next ap I get to play in. I’d love to see you put your ideas to a hellknight signifier.

  3. Aaron Miller

    Thanks for the update. Not having looked to deep yet but any reason not to take Rogue first level?

  4. Robyn

    I actually have an arcane trickster in PFS, and she does supper work. To get my sneak attack die I actually went rogue 1, snakebite striker 1. It does delay you a level to AT but you get an extra BAB, improved fort save, and because of improved unarmed strike you still threaten and provide flanking even if you discharged your touch spell (which makes the rest of the team happier to flank with you). Its a really fun class, highly recommend it. Nice work with the build :).

  5. Trent

    One question on sense vitals. When I looked it up it says it allows you to use any “manufactured weapon” to deal sneak attack. Would that mean it doesn’t work with your spells? Would it work with some spells like conjuration spells that create a physical object or does that not count as manufactured? If it doesn’t work with spells it’d still be nice on those rare occasions you pull out a weapon but the build wouldn’t be quite as nasty.

    • Alex Augunas

      You’re likely right, which is a good thing. That spells makes me kind of uncomfortable in the same way that knock does.

  6. Don

    Interesting build. I love the idea of the Arcane Trickster but for those like myself who mostly play PFS it is not a viable build. Also, the lack of many skill points really hurts rogue’s who want to be skill monkeys. I find the Carnivalist rogue archetype to be a poor man’s Trickster. You get a familiar like a wizard and it can pull off some Trickster like shenanigans while keeping the strengths of the rogue.

    • Alex Augunas

      Well, if you’re going to go Wizard / Rogue, you probably have a baller Intelligence. Assuming you’re conservative like me, having a 16 Int isn’t unlikely, which would net you 5 skill ranks per level. That doesn’t make it impossible to play a skill-focused arcane trickster.

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  7. Ragnarocknroll

    Am I missing something? I don’t have the book in front of me but based on the SRD, I see no reason why you can take extra impromptu sneak attack more than once. Other than that I personally find the Arcane Trickster to be the best Prestige class in the core book and this certainly helps make that case.

    • Alex Augunas

      You’re probably looking at the d20pfsrd.com website, which is NOT an official Pathfinder resource. Rather than list the Dirty Tactics Toolbox version of the feat, they only have a Third Party version of the feat (done by LPJr Games).

      The Paizo official version of the feat is significantly less restrictive than the 3PP one, as seen on the Archives of Nethys:


      • JackDeth

        Unfortunately, per the Core Rulebook on page 113, “If a character has the same feat more than once, its benef its do not stack unless indicated otherwise in the description.” Since the Accomplished Sneak Attacker does not include this text, you wouldn’t be able to stack multiple copies of this feat. It sure doesn’t prevent that early start to the Arcane Trickster class though… I think that’s the true icing on the cake here.

  8. Joe Collins

    I would like to see your version of any of the core prestige classes. I second the vote for a hellknight signifer, and would like to see if you could do anything interesting with a horizon walker.

  9. Waireth

    You just commited one mistake in the calculis: When you do a scorching ray (or another ranged touch attack like battering blast) with sneak attack you don’t double the sneak damage dices. The extra damage is only applied to one of the rays. Because of this your Sense Vitals from the dirty tactics toolbox is not that useful as you might think. Still +3d6 to each spell and attack for a 2 lvl spell is good if you have improved invisibility

  10. Miguel

    Thanks for the guide. Im creating a ratfolk for PFS game and it would be very useful. One question: What do you think about choosing Admixture arcane school instead of Exploiter Archetype? Versatile evocation will let you switch the energy type adapt it to the enemy

    • JackDeth

      Hi Miguel,

      I’ve been searching the Iconic Designs for the last couple weeks, and I found an earlier build of the Arcane Trickster. It was dependent upon using spell like abilities to enter the Arcane Trickster class early, which the errata has changed, so there’s a big bold statement right up front that indicates the build is invalid.

      HOWEVER… Said build did use the Admixture arcane school for its basis. It also seemed like a good build, so I’d recommend taking the time to compare and contrast the two builds, noting errata changes since then…