Elementary! A Handbook to the Pathfinder Investigator

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Welcome to Elementary! A Handbook to the Pathfinder Investigator.  Investigators are hands down the best skill monkey class that Pathfinder has printed. It appears that Pathfinder has learned from the bard and given a class that wants to be a skill monkey good class abilities involving skills. However, because they’ve built a class that’s so focused on skills and out-of-combat utility, the builds tend to be a little different than characters that you might have seen before.

When building an investigator, there are two things you want to consider before you build: What is my role outside of combat? and What is my role inside of combat?

What is my role outside of combat?

It’s very easy to think of investigator as a skill monkey, but that’s simplifying things a little too much. While you certainly have easy access to skills and ways to boost them, there are many roles that you can fill in the party. These roles are not mutually exclusive – one can be a face as well as be a crafter, but you should consider which of these roles you want to fill yourself and which are better filled by other members of the party.

Bookworm – Knowledge skills can be huge skill point sinks. There are 10 of them, which means that if you want to max out all of them, you need to get 4 extra skill points per level between a high intelligence modifier and other sources. That is a lot of skill points and doesn’t leave you doing much else. On top of this, knowledge-focused bards and oracles of lore will still beat you in this via class features. Fortunately, only 6 of the knowledge skills are used to identify creatures which is where some of the highest Knowledge DCs come from, and there are plenty of feats you can spend to increase your knowledge skills so that they are passable. This is not a specialization you want to double up on, unless you’re in PFS, in which case having doubles at the table won’t hurt you, but you’ll find yourself being outshined some of the time.

Crafter – This is an easy role to fill for you – you gain a bonus equal to your level to craft alchemical items, which means at low levels you can craft lots of alchemical items for minimum investment. You can even do this in PFS! You can also craft magical items, although it will be tougher for you since you can’t meet spell requirements ever. However, you do qualify for the crafting feats since according to James Jacobs, you do have a caster level. Crafting can be very feat intensive, and wizards will do it better than you, but wizards are generally spending their feats nowadays on things like metamagic and Spell Perfection, so I’m sure they won’t mind you taking the crafting load off of them.

Dungeoneer – These include the traditional rogue skills – Acrobatics, Disable Device, Disguise, Escape Artist, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, and Use Magic Device. Often times when you tell someone that you are going to be a skill monkey, these are the skills they expect you to have. With the exception of Perception and UMD, these are also the ones that other party members are least likely to have since they don’t fit in with the traditional picture of their characters. Also, you gain Trapfinding, which allows you to disable magical traps, a key part of being a Dungeoneer.

Face – This includes Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate and Sense Motive – the 4 big skills needed for interacting with people. In general you can get away without Intimidate, especially if that’s where the big burly type put his skill points, but Diplomacy is an important skill that opens so many doors for your party. You won’t be as good as a bard or other Charisma-focused class that has focused on this, but you will still be pretty good at it. For PFS players, this focus becomes better because it’s a really important skill to have at the table and there are lots of faction missions that require some kind of face skill that other players can’t do for you.

Item Identifier – Identifying items is tricky – you need to have both ranks in Spellcraft and access to detect magic. Spellcraft is easy – you already needed that to copy down forumlae in your formula book, but detect magic is tricky since you don’t have cantrips. If you can get access to detect magic somehow, this becomes an easy role for you to fill. Even if you don’t get access to Spellcraft, Craft (alchemy) allows you to identify potions thanks to your Alchemy class ability, and Appraise isn’t a bad skill for identifying the value of precious gems and the like. The value of this specialization goes down in PFS because ID’ing items isn’t nearly as important when they all show up on the chronicle sheet afterwards.

Nature – This include skills like Handle Animal, Ride, and Survival. These are generally the responsibility of the local druid, ranger, hunter, or whatever other nature themed class you happen to have. However, if no one else has them, Survival is a good skill to have for tracking creatures and Handle Animal can be really useful if you want it to be. Handle Animal can also represent your contribution to combat. The value of this goes up in PFS as Survival is becoming a more and more important skill in later scenarios.

What is my role inside of combat?

Animal Trainer – Usually non-animal companion animals aren’t good choices for combat because you don’t get good action economy. However as an investigator, trained animals might have more combat utility than you. They’re cheap, they’re replaceable, and they hit like a truck if you can make the necessary rolls. Be careful in PFS – some GMs really dislike this tactic and will look down on you for taking that tactic.

Archer – Archery is usually the easy button for making  a character that wouldn’t otherwise contribute to combat. However for the investigator, it’s pretty terrible. Archery is feat intensive, and the only combat ability that the investigator gets only applies to melee attacks. You can make an archer investigator, but it’s not playing to any of the strengths of the class.

Combat Maneuver Specialist – Combat maneuvers are melee attacks, so they will get the bonus from Studied Combat, and as long as you can continue to find ways to increase your CMB as you level, you can continue to trip, disarm, reposition or do other terrible things to opponents. The value of this goes down the more monstrous opponents you fight, but goes up the more humanoid opponents you fight. This path is feat intensive, but doesn’t have to be MAD if you pick up Agile Maneuvers or Weapon Finesse and use only weapon maneuvers.

Damage Dealer – You will never be as good of a damage dealer as any d10 hit die class, you don’t have proficiency with any good two-handed weapons and this forces you to invest in Strength more than you normally would as an investigator. Despite all of those disadvantages, you can be okay at damage dealing. Studied Combat overall increases your attack bonus to greater than full BAB (except at 5th level), so you can pick up Power Attack and go to town. Half-your level to damage isn’t terrible either. If you had asked me during the playtest, I would’ve told you that this was a terrible idea and that you shouldn’t try it, but now that the ACG is out, it’s not a terrible idea. Not amazing, but not terrible either.

Helpful Combatant – The investigator talent Effortless Aid is a really intriguing ability. It allows you to aid another as a move action, effectively giving you an “aid another full attack” by letting you aid another twice in a round or three times if you spend an inspiration. There are a bunch of ways out there to stack aid another bonuses, and Bodyguard was already a strong feat. The value of this goes up in a campaign like PFS where you have more control over what equipment you buy since a lot of the ways to increase your aid another bonus are items. Be careful in PFS though since you will probably take Bodyguard and due to its poor wording it can fall under GM discretion as to how well it works.

Offensive Extracts – There aren’t a lot of offensive extracts out there, but there are some like fire breath and vomit swarm that can be used offensively. If you focus on Intelligence, the DCs might be high enough that you could do some real damage with them.

Pack Rat – The investigator is one of the best classes at Use Magic Device thanks to inspiration. By picking up lots of cheap silver bullet items including  scrolls, wands and other cheap consumables, you can solve a lot of encounters. This path involves good system mastery, but it is the hardest to focus in. It works best as a subrole while focusing on something else.

Polymorpher – Thanks to having the alchemist list, the investigator gets access to a lot of polymorph spells. While you’re not going to be as good at it as a druid is, you don’t lose studied combat/strike in animal form, meaning that you can still be a decent combatant.

Pseudo-Alchemist – Alchemical items are expensive for characters to be focusing on in general, but since you get bonuses to craft them and can craft them at 1/3 cost, it may be worth it to have a bunch of them on hand. This will help you in early levels, but in general the power level of alchemical items goes down as you start fighting stronger and stronger enemies. This is a good role to start out with, then transition into another role as you continue on your career.

Organizational Notes

I’ll be using the Treantmonk’s coloring scheme for this guide, which looks like this:

  • Red – This is a poor option. You can take it if you want to, but consider the red a warning label.
  • Orange – This is an okay option. This is situational, or weak, or otherwise not that memorable. You might see some use out of it during a campaign, but not much.
  • Green – This is a decent option. This will see regular use and can help in a lot of different situations.
  • Blue – This is the cream of the crop. Every build should at least consider this option and have good reason for not wanting to take it.

(Do you play Pathfinder Society? Great! I play a lot of PFS and built my own investigator for PFS. Whenever something comes up for PFS that would be different than a home campaign, I’ll make a note of it in purple.)

Also, here’s a list of sources I am using for this guide and the abbreviations for each:

  • AA – Adventurer’s Armory
  • ACG – Advanced Class Guide
  • Animal – Animal Archive
  • APG – Advanced Player’s Guide
  • ARG – Advanced Race Guide
  • B4 – Bestiary 4
  • BoA – Blood of Angels
  • BoF – Blood of Fiends
  • BoG – Bastards of Golarion
  • BotM – Blood of the Moon
  • BotN – Blood of the Night
  • CEoD – Cheliax, Empire of Devils
  • Core – Core Rulebook
  • DEP – Dragon Empires Primer
  • DoG – Dwarves of Golarion
  • EoG – Elves of Golarion
  • FaP – Faiths and Philosophies
  • FG – Faction Guide
  • GnoG – Gnomes of Golarion
  • GoG – Goblins of Golarion
  • HalfoG – Halflings of Golarion
  • HoG – Humans of Golarion
  • IotS – Isles of the Shackles
  • ISB – Inner Sea Bestiary
  • ISG – Inner Sea Gods
  • ISP – Inner Sea Primer
  • KoG – Kobolds of Golarion
  • LoFPG – Legacy of Fire Player’s Guide
  • OM – Occult Mysteries
  • OoG – Orcs of Golarion
  • P70 – Pathfinder #70 – The Frozen Stars
  • PoP – Paths of Prestige
  • PotIS – Pirates of the Inner Sea
  • PotN – People of the North
  • PotR – People of the River
  • PSFG – Pathfinder Society Field Guide
  • PSP – Pathfinder Society Primer
  • QaC – Quests and Campaigns
  • RotRAE – Rise of the Runelords, Anniversary Edition
  • TEoG – Taldor, Echoes of Glory
  • TG – Technology Guide
  • UC – Ultimate Combat
  • UCamp – Ultimate Campaign
  • UM – Ultimate Magic
  • USH – Undead Slayer’s Handbook

(Note – while this looks like a lot of sources, most of the random softcovers are for only one or two things. You can build a very good Investigator with only the hardcover line. Really only the Core Rulebook, the APG and the ACG are required to build a good Investigator).