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A Guide to Focus Spells

Gwenevere Rothwell

Apr 28, 2023

Focus Spells are a new and interesting mechanic brought in with Pathfinder 2nd Edition. They are essentially a new and limited spellcasting option that brings more individuality to a class’s spellcasting capability and thematics...

Image by Kiwihug

Focus Spells are a new and interesting mechanic brought in with Pathfinder 2nd Edition. They are essentially a new and limited spellcasting option that brings more individuality to a class’s spellcasting capability and thematics. You can find the rules for them on page 300 of the Core Rulebook.

Focus Spells and Spellcasting

Paizo went for a very nice and simple approach to spellcasting in Pathfinder 2nd Edition. Instead of every class having its own list of spells, they instead derive their spellcasting from one of four lists, each with its own theme: Arcane, Divine, Occult, and Primal. The drawback to this is that no spell list is unique now, and that’s where Focus Spells come in. Focus Spells resemble a lot of the very unique feats, spells, and class features of Pathfinder 1st Edition. For example, Augment Summoning is no longer a feat, but instead a Conjurer Wizard Focus Spell; Lay on Hands is no longer a separate class ability and is instead a Champion Focus Spell; and Clerics gain focus spells from their domain. It’s a way for Paizo to create brand new spells that are specific to a class without having to break the very simple magic system that they’ve created.

How They Work

Focus Spells do not use spell slots like traditional spells and instead use a Focus Pool. When you first gain a Focus Spell you also gain a Focus Pool containing one Focus Point. Unlike traditional spell slots a Focus Point can be restored after 10 minutes of doing something thematic to your class: bards write out songs or play their instrument or commune to the eldritch whispers that give them their knowledge, Clerics meditate or pray to their deity, and Sorcerers get to be lucky and basically just have to exist for 10 minutes before their Focus Points are restored.

As you progress through the game you might get access to more Focus Spells, but keep in mind that you only get additional Focus Points if the feat or ability that gives you Focus Points states it does, or if it gives you a Focus Pool and you already have one, otherwise you do not increase your Focus Pool (so sorry for your loss, Wild Shape Druid). When you spend 10 minutes refocusing when your focus pool is completely empty  you only gain a single Focus Point back, regardless of what your Focus Pool is, unless you have specific feats or abilities from your class (or potentially an archetype) that states otherwise. Usually you’ll get access to a feat that lets you restore 2 Focus Points after 10 minutes of refocusing at level 12, and one that lets you restore 3 Focus Points after 10 minutes of refocusing at level 18. Keep in mind that you can only refocus if your Focus Pool is empty and your absolute cap on Focus Points is 3, meaning your Focus Pool can never contain more than 3 Focus Points.

Like cantrips, Focus Spells are automatically heightened to half your level rounded up. Additionally, some classes give Focus Spells that are cantrips. Unlike regular Focus Spells, Focus Cantrips don’t cost you a Focus Point and you can cast them even if you’re out of Focus Points.

Some Player Strategies

Because it takes 10 minutes to refocus, you might want to be more conservative with your focus spells when you know that a fight is around the corner, but it might be better to have the focus spell users who are out of Focus Points sit down and regain them while those who either are not out of Focus Points or those who don’t have Focus Spells to begin with keep watch. I personally believe that GMs should be pretty generous with letting players regain Focus Points as they feel like they’re more designed for being expended in an encounter and regained right after, effectively a resource that only really matters in the moment of combat, but not so much outside of it, but that’s entirely up to your GM.

I’m also one who thinks that you should never be shy about using Focus Spells. You can regain them after only ten minutes of refocusing, so use them to your heart’s content. Obviously don’t use them if you don’t have to or you’re in a situation where you don’t particularly need to, but when the opportunity arises, go for it.

Lastly, if you have a focus cantrip or a list of focus cantrips, assess the situation and try to use one once a round or keep it active. You might think that a +1 status bonus on attack rolls, damage rolls, and saves against fear is too small a bonus to matter, but in Pathfinder 2nd Edition every +1 counts and these spells affect all allies in an extremely wide area. I always use Proficiency Bonus as a reference to buffs like these. If it costs you something and it gives +1, then that +1 better be very broad. If it’s a +2 bonus, use it because that effectively increases everyone’s proficiency by 1. If it’s a +3 bonus, then definitely use it because that gives a bonus equal to a proficiency increase and a little extra. In this instance I see cantrips as costing nothing. It does cost 1 action to cast things like Inspire Courage, but using one of your three actions to do so isn’t bad at all. Compare this to Inspire Heroics which is a focus spell that increases the effects of your Inspire Courage to +2 or +3 if you critically succeed on the check, if you fail the DC you don’t expend the focus point, and it’s a free action to cast which makes it a really good use of your focus points.

House Rules for GMs

A house rule you might consider depending on the type of game you’re running is the aforementioned removal of the need to refocus when your players expend all their focus points, or decreasing the amount of time needed to refocus. I see the refocus time requirement as more of a warning to GMs that says, “Hey, refocusing shouldn’t be used in combat ever.” The issue comes with fast paced dungeon crawls, scene skips, etc. Personally I like ruling that Focus Points are a once per encounter resource that refills to 1, 2, or 3 depending on the player’s feat selection between each fight (or stays at its current capacity if they have more than what it would restore). However, because refocusing can be a good moment for some roleplay I’ll instead have a spot in the dungeon or prison or what have you where players can all sit down and do some sort of roleplay tied to their class while interacting with the other party members. I feel this helps a lot with the very fast paced one shots I tend to run.

There is a bit of a grey area with this method though, like what happens if someone uses a focus spell outside of combat? Well, that’s why I use the term ‘encounter’ rather than ‘combat’. You could have someone use a focus spell on a trap, a locked door, or even a plot event. If that plot event leads to an encounter, then I might give them their focus point back, even if they didn’t empty out their pool as sort of a reward (and an incentive) to keep doing stuff like that to enrich their own narrative. After all, to me TTRPGs are more about the amazing moments and memories we share over sticking 100% to the rules always.

Wrapping Up

Focus Spells are an interesting, fun, and thematic aspect to characters. It can help bring out certain special abilities that are completely unique to your choices and from a build perspective it can open you up to more choices for other spells. A Wild Shape Druid for example won’t need to prepare various shapeshifting spells because they have the Wild Shape Focus Spell. It’s a very freeing and interesting system that I encourage players to use and GMs to think about when running their games. If you don’t give time to rest between encounters, then make Focus Points restore naturally between encounters. It helps that “10 minutes” in the world of TTRPGs is a very abstract amount of time, so it doesn’t imbalance the game if you cut a few corners with its timing.

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