Playing a Magus or Swordsage


We are restarting a campaign in my gaming group and doing a soft restart for our characters. We can remake our characters, but we are staying with the same plot line and where we left off. My current class is a Swordsage and I know how well the class plays, but I also am intrigued by the Magus(Black Blade/Kensai) class.
I love the versatility of the Swordsage. Any thoughts on directions between the 2 classes?

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

There really isn't that much that's the same with them other than they might both swing swords.

In short the Magus is the result of a collision between a fighter and a wizard that can simultaneously exhibit some traits of each. They are the ONLY class that can legally combine spellcasting and melee in their own unique form of two weapon fighting.

The Sword Sage has practically nothing in common with the Magus. You might also want to try a straight Magus before loading yourself with two archetypes which have a fairly major impact on the way the class functions.

I know nothing about Sword Sage (is that a 3.5 class, maybe from Complete Warrior?), but I do know that I am building a Magus right now. If I were you, I would fully read the base-class write-up and then consider how those abilities all work together.

I would not play a Swordsage in Pathfinder. The tumble DCs got severely nerfed, even if you have a good dex and keep it maxed, you will fail about 50% of the time. Swordsage's standard action strikes and weak attack/defense otherwise make it a skirmisher class, that relies on moving in and out of the fray. If you're getting hit every other round you do that, you won't last terribly long.

Magus, on the other hand, was designed optimally for pathfinder's preferred "stand there and slug it out" fighting style. By full attacking, you can get an extra attack every round AND cast a spell (if the spell isn't a melee touch spell you don't get the extra attack but otherwise are still full attacking and casting). I'd pick Magus.

I read through the Magus and there are some sexy things in the class. The spell selection warrant a lot of different options as do feats. How does it play out in a gaming sessions as far as its resources. I am not huge on specializing and I like being versatile. Its not that I don't see the benefit for specializing but I like be prepared for any condition.

As with any spellcaster, the first few levels you'll find yourself running out of resources quite quickly. Magi have the benefit of using cantrips to get that second attack so you aren't hit as hard by it. When you get Spell Recall and a Pearl of Power or two, you'll find your resources can last you a good while if you manage them carefully.

What I find helps is if you think of the Magus' spells like 1/day special abilities. That may help you decide on the flavor you like in your martial magic. You'll find that a Magus can be highly adaptable to know threats and challenges. If you know whats coming and have time to prepare a magus can be very Wizard like in tools he has to overcome a challenge.

You can play a direct magic attack magus or you can play it self-buffing, and you can switch back and forth during the course of play. Try building some "ability" lists the way the Sword Sage disciplines are. Keep in mind the durations of the spells vs maneuvers.

Personally I'm not keen on the Kensai as it diminishes two of the Magus' biggest advantages as a Gish (yay, hate for term but I'm old enough school for it). First is you lose spell slots, which is not super bad if you are willing to put money into expendables like scrolls and wands. Second is armor use loss, which is the real hit. A Kensai works in a group/setting where you can be squishy much of the time and get an advantage from reacting first.

The Boundblade can be fun, and I can see why you'd think about pairing it with the Kensai. However, again you are depleting our all resources as the Blackblade reduces your Arcane Pool from 1/2 to 1/3 your level, which you need to power some of the getter Magus powers. It does balance the "always on" nature of the Blackblade's weapon enhancement bonus, but it does reduce your own options.

I am currently playing a Kensai Magus with plans to go Blade Bound and like others have stated it has it's draw backs. If you go Kensai you will likely go dex since you have no armor... That usually lowers or reduces your strength. Thus you will likely have to go weapon fitness(feat) and then dancing dervish(feat) to get that little extra damage possibly pirhanna strike(feat). However the increased damage is only useful if you are using more melee. So it depends on how you plan to play. I planned to go dancing dervish blade bound Kensai and after a few sessions I am enjoying the controller aspect of my spells with the occasional melee. Will this change when I get DD and have a better to hit maybe, but with the diminished spells it will be hard to use spell strike much early on. I limit it to "boss" fights for the burst. I am only getting dancing dervish to beef up my attacks if I every have to rely on my weapon. A lvl o acid splash never gets more powerful. So it is better to swing and hit for 1d6 plus 3-4 than just do a 1d3 /shrug

You can avoid the dancing dervish feat with the agile weapon, but having a magic black blade is an issue you have to take up with your DM. If you can't then it will be lvl 5 before you get that extra dex to damage. Where you could get it at 3 with DD but then are ushered towards the scimitar. It also would take up arcane pool...

Then the Kensai have diminished spells... So you are more focused on melee and depending on what level you start at it will be a strain. My first few sessions I was sitting in the back casting daze cause I have low AC and my -1 attack -1 damage with my scimitar is far from a full round stun on an enemy. If you can play a support class for a few levels or if you start at a high enough level where you by pass the pain of leveling while under powered then you should be ok.

I'm not sure of the difference between the two classes, but the Magus is enjoyable and versatile enough to do both effectively. You also get some buffs and debuffs higher up. So a support class that CAN jump into melee and burst is nice. it all depends on how you want to play and what you consider fun.

A STR build without the Kensai might save you some feats and allow you to get the armor you lose with a dex build. Also you could use a bigger weapon and benefit from the STR without taking as many feats... use a weapon 2 handed for extra damage. No reduced spells... Etc. I think it all depends on just what you want your character to do.

I hope I helped.

Most of Kensai and Bladebound pains are at lower level. If you're starting play at a higher level then they're much groovier.
Dervish dancing elf is still the obvious way to go. I don't believe you can further enchant a black blade, so agile weapon of some other sort is out unless you get a houserule from the DM allowing it as a base or arcana addition to arcane pool.

Consider silk ceremonial armor for a cheap alternative to bracers of armor.

Finesse without agile or dervish might not be so bad if you've got tons of power pearls and/or burly wands so you can throw bigger spells every round, and blackblade does save you oodles of cash. Strength with less dex, remembering to use mirror image, blink, etc to make up for lamer defense, could be doable at higher levels as well, and could get by on less powerful spells for damage.

Personally, I favor the Bladebound archetype. A scaling magic weapon for 0 cost? Sign me up! Don't get me wrong, there are some nice arcanas, but the weapon itself far outclasses them, especially when you're not speced for taking maximum advantage of the arcanas. The other "downside" is that you have a reduced arcane pool...but the blade has it's own! Usually you will GAIN total pool points, or at least break even.

For the kensai, I can't say that I'm fond of them. If that's your playstyle, that's fine, nothing against that, but it doesn't do it for me. No armor is painful, diminished spellcasting is painful, not having spell recall hurts, etc. It's almost like they're not a Magus at all. If you end up trying a kensai, invest heavily in scrolls/wand of mage armor/shield.

Bladebound does have costs. It costs an arcana and you can't gain any until level 6 (including via feats). It costs you points, though the sword eventually gives you more back than you lost. The worst loss, though, is no familiar. Not being able to have an Improved Familiar use magic devicing scrolls or wands every round is a pretty significant loss, IMO.

Your comments have given me somethings to think on. Thanks!

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