I have a human Phantom Thief running around in PFS, currently at lvl 5.
The flavor of the arcetype is amazing, and it is a really good skill monkey. However, I suggest that you make use of the fact that you can take combat trick and the minor/major magic tricks multiple times. My character was made to be the ultimate skill monkey, and took EWP: Elven Branched Spear and Power Attack as his only combat skills. I assumed that that was the only thing I needed, and at low levels, that was enough. Quite recently I realized that I do not have the health to be a proper frontline, nor the to-hit to reliably hit something. He just wasn't build for that (I prioratized his Intelligence and Skill Points in the build, wasn't a good idea).
It isn't all bad, out of combat he is a hero. He has Orator, Insightful Advice and Brilliant Planner as feats, and I use them regularly. It allows me to be the face (except for requests), help the rest with upping some of their skill checks and pull out situational stuff from my Handy Haversack (Who has a scroll of Speak with Animal? I do! - Did you know I bribed the guard? - I ordered a boat to take us down the river, don't worry.)
But since Pathfinder also throws combat at you, you need to be able to pull your own weight. My character is failingat that at the moment. To save my build, I think I will go for Combat Advice and up the Use Magic Device even more (Phantom Thief is quite capable in upping it fast). This allows me to support the rest of my party during combat, just until I find something better.
So my advice is: Try to be able to do something during combat, you can't rely on just your skills. You have enough feat access to try a ranged build, or a pseudo magician with Minor/Major magic and UMD (takes a bit longer to come online). Also, the UMD Skill Unlock sucks, but the Phantom Thief gets half his level to that skill if he chooses it, so win some, lose some. You also have acces to the Vigilante Social talents Many Guises and Mockingbird. For a home game, those are two gems to take from the Vigilante list. But in PFS Disguise hardly shows up, and the save DC of Mockingbird is unknown (if it even has one). That last one shouldn't be a problem to discuss with the GM, but with PFS, that is a nightmare.
There are a couple important levels:4, 7, 10, and 14. Those are when you get new skill unlocks. The first two don't do much, but 10 and 14 are nice. I mostly pull Phantom Thief out for high-level games, and stock up on SLAs from Magical Tail (taking the trait to use combat feats for that) and Fey Obedience. Grab some scrolls of Antimagic Field and take advantage of all your non-magical early-access capstone abilities to bypass enemy defenses. No combat investment at all, really, but this isn't for PFS.
In my group's experience, they are not particularly good combat characters. It can be helped if you take Combat Trick multiple times, or perhaps multiple Minor/Major Magic, but if you're going the Minor/Major Magic route you may as well just use Eldritch Scoundrel instead.
As a skill monkey though, they are impeccable.
I've seen them do amazing things in PFS, including circumventing and preventing combat, but never have I seen one perform well IN combat.
...At least, not to the point where the players no longer asked themselves "Why didn't I just play a fighter rather than take Combat Trick a bunch of times?" or "Why am I limiting myself only to 1st-level spells with Major Magic, rather than playing a spellcaster?"
All right, that sounds like what I expected. I feel like you could do okay just two-handing the elven curved blade/branched spear seems like it would be "okay". Although I kind of feel like dumping strength a little since I want to use the points on the mental stats so power attack is out of the question. Still wondering how exactly to build it. Like usual human feels strong, Elves with the favored class bonus sound like they would increase uses on all of your several major magic talents which is pretty awesome. Any of the +dex small races and things like sylph seem nice as well.
I've had a lot of fun with the phantom thief. Every skill is a class skill so skill monkey away. I tossed feats into extra rogue talents for minor/major magic. Take Bookish Rogue and spend a bit of cash and you can have ANY 0 or 1st level wizard spell ready in 10 min no matter how niche the spell might be.
With a 5th level human that retrains it's 1st level feats, you're looking at 1 cantrip [at-will] and 4 1st level spells [2/day] and you could change the spells with 10 min plus they can do that in armor.
Ravingdork: On the "why" questions, I find it to be an awesome problem solver with the skill or spell on hand. On "why" not a caster, SLA have NO components: Hands full, silenced, expensive component, ect and the rogue doesn't care.
A Ring of Forcefangs works well with this archetype. Fill the ring up with SLA magic missiles and fire off 5 missiles in a round.
Woodoodoo: Don't expect a combat monster or even a combat stand-out. In fact, most of the time they are of most use in helping out others in combat: Flanking, Aiding others, AoO, ect.
Graystone: The unchained versions of minor/major magic are even better than the chained ones.
I'd meant it to be unchained. I'd messed up the cantrip's per day rate but the rate for 1st's was correct [1 per 2 levels, at 5th that's 2].
EDIT: Eldritch heritage, I tend to focus on int for the skill points so I rarely have the points to take it.
Using magical tail might be fun as well. Although it might take a bit too much investment.
For race, Halfling works well. Helpful and Born under the Cradle let you aid another like a champ. You get bonus saves, can take Creepy Doll/Human Shadow to hide anywhere or warslinger for slinging from a distance.
Creepy Doll is a standout just for cool factor. ;)
Gotta be honest, they are really cool characters. One of my favorite archetypes ever printed, the easiest way to think of them is as Fighter/Mage/Thieves from ADnD. Or at least from Baldur's Gate, you are sacrificing power for diversity.
Now in Pathfinder that is generally a bad idea, and part of that is because Pathfinder has a BAZILLION classes and you can usually find what you want somewhere else. Slayers are Fighter/Rogues, Rangers are Fighter/Druids, Magi are Fighter/Mages, the Eldritch Scrapper is a Rogue/Mage, and don't get me started on the psychic classes.
However, there are tons of neat things you can do with a Phantom Thief that make them really neat. As stated, Minor and Major magic are a huge part of this. With the Study feat that allows you to swap them around, you can have several level 1 wizard spells on hand.
You can be the party's healer one day, their mount provider the next, the polyglot the next, and so on. However, those spells can also be used in combat.
An obvious way is to be a Half-Elven Phantom Thief who specializes in the Elven Branched Spear. This weapon gives you 1.5 dex to damage, reach, and you can cast enlarge person 1/2 HD per day. That gives you nearly constant 20ft reach, which makes you quite a potent flanker. You also have access to Long Arm if you need 25ft reach, and Expedious Retreat for zipping around the battlefield.
Without sneak attack, you don't need to worry about not being efficient with a ranged weapon. Especially since you have access to feats from Combat Trick, and Gravity Bow is another spell you can cast every encounter. Especially with access to the Handy Grapnel spell which basically allows you to not put points into climb and still get into the perfect spot every fight.
The Skill Unlocks aren't the greatest, but Stealth and Intimidate are very strong. Stealth basically allows you to solo encounters who cannot detect you, provided you also take the Expert Sniper feat, while Intimidate makes you deadly efficient. Especially since you are skilled with a Sap, and Enforcer allows for some pretty easy intimidate checks.
The ability to basically turn yourself into several, scaling, Sorcerer/Wizard Wands during travel, and then revert back to a combat build makes you the beloved toolbox of the party. Especially with 8/skills per level
Are you going to be as efficient as anyone else, except in social situations, no. However you can immediately fill whatever roll is missing. You will not be the Wizard or the Barbarian who turns whole encounters sideways by just existing. However, you will fight well and your versatility will be the tipping point for your party.
Note: Other Useful Wizard/Sorc spells
Thunderstomp (Trip at full character level, yum)
Web Bolt, Grease, and Shadow Trap
Lucky Number (Free Reroll on a 1 is amazing and it lasts all day)
There's a bunch of one-level dips possible if you want trapfinding. Investigator, trapper ranger, seeker oracle or sorcerer, etc.
Alchemist, Bard, background trait...
EDIT: Disable Device skill unlock 10 Ranks[You can disarm magical traps at a –10 penalty even if you lack the trapfinding ability]
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There's a guy I play with regularly who has a kitsune phantom thief. We played through Daughters of Fury and he broke the entire plot. On the PFS chronicle, there's a set of mutually exclusive boons and the table got both because of how badly the module was broken by this character.
If you're playing a Phantom Thief, you have to be ready to take a back seat in combat unless you choose to focus combat at the expense of what the archetype does. It's a great archetype, but it's highly specific.
So I think I've narrowed my stats to something like STR: 7 DEX: 16 CON: 12 INT: 14 WIS: 12 CHA: 14(give or take a few points) and the races down to Kitsune, Halfling and Wayang. I like being small for the stealth bonus and I can reduce person myself to become tiny. I can achieve the same goal with kitsune with fox shape and the kitsune have have probably the best favored class bonus.
Next up is choosing the order of what skills I want to give 1/2 level bonus to and get the skill unlock. I imagine something like Perception>Stealth>Intimidate>Diplomacy>Sense motive. those seem like the best skill unlocks.
I'm not sure how far to go with the major magic route.
could be something like
2 Minor magic(detect magic)
3 ERT: Major magic(?)
4 Major magic(?)
5 Bookish rogue
6 Major magic(?)
7 Brilliant planner or vigilante talent many guises/mockingbird
You could also just go crazy with kitsune and magical tail since you can get the magical tail feats through the magical tail trait and bonus combat feats. So you could dominate person by level 7