Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire Guide: Cipher

Last updated on October 22nd, 2018

Ciphers are one of the 11 Classes in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, and in this Guide we’re going to take a look at how they work in order to not only help you make a better Cipher, but also help you to determine if this is the class for you. If you are new to Pillars of Eternity 2 or just need a refresher when it comes to Class selection and Character Creation, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Let’s get started…


Ciphers have great flexibility in what they can do and have some amazing Crowd Control abilities. They are not as overwhelming as you would think at first glance.

Cipher Builds and How They Work

Ciphers in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire are a “spell casting” Class that specializes in dealing damage, controlling and debuffing enemies, and buffing their fellow party members. Because they gain bonus damage with Weapons, they lend themselves very well to Multiclassing, particularly with Classes that use Weapons as their primary means of damage. They are a solid choice for the player who wishes to have a “pure caster” Build, or for the player that would like to augment their martial Class with some spells and buffs.

Ciphers use Focus for their resource, just like they did in the previous game, and Focus allows them to cast spells. Ciphers always begin combat with a fixed amount of Focus and have a maximum they can acquire during each encounter. Whenever they cast a spell they will subtract the Focus cost from their accumulated Focus, and each time they attack with a weapon they will gain Focus based on the damage they deal. This means that Ciphers will have to balance the use of their spells and weapon attacks in order to be effective. More powerful spells cost more Focus, so building Focus quickly is of the utmost importance.


You can see on the bottom left here the amount of focus I begin combat with (7) and the maximum Focus I can have (30). These numbers will increase every time you level up.

Each time a Cipher levels up they will gain not only new Abilities, but also the amount of Focus they begin combat with, as well as the maximum Focus they can have. How much Focus you begin combat with, how much your maximum is, and how much your spells cost are all affected by your Subclass. Ciphers have 3 Subclasses to choose from, or you can choose not to take a Subclass. We will take a look at these in the next section, but for now let’s focus on Abilities.

Ciphers by and large have three Ability types that shape their Class (these are also affected to some degree by your Subclass). These Ability types are: Shred, Deception and Echo. Generally speaking Shred Abilities are your “damaging abilities” that deal damage directly to enemies. Deception Abilities generally cast a negative status effect of some kind on the target such as blindness or even charming them for a duration. Echo Abilities generally buff a party member in some manner, either by increasing their stats, defense, or even creating a damaging field around them. You can choose Abilities of each type or specialize in one if you wish, and this is where Subclasses come in.


The 3 Ability types of the Cypher. Shred generally deal damage, Deception usually Crowd Control and Echo are usually Buffs.

Cipher Subclasses, Which to Choose

In this section we’re going to take a look at the Subclasses of the Cipher and see why you might choose one of them, or not. Ciphers gain bonus damage to their weapon attacks because of a Passive Ability called Soul Whip. Soul Whip not only increases the damage of the Cipher’s attacks, but also dictates the rate at which they gain Focus with these attacks. Soul Whip’s effect changes based on your Subclass (which you can see in the table at the bottom of this section). Let’s take a look at what the Cipher Subclasses are, and talk a bit about what sort of Builds you can make with them.


Asecendants make excellent Single Class “spell casters” because of their high Focus, and very good Multiclass “hybrid” characters because of their bonus to weapon damage.

Bonus: Reaching Max Focus grants the “Ascended” effect temporarily, increasing the Cipher’s Power Level by 3 and reducing Power Focus cost of spells by 100% for 25 seconds. Soul Whip does not turn off at Max Focus and provides +20% damage with weapons when at Max Focus.

Penalty: While not Ascended, receive a -1 penalty to Cipher Power Level. When Ascended fades Focus is reduced to 0.

Players wishing to play as the Ascendant Subclass of Cipher will have two styles of play available to them. The first is a “pure caster” Cipher that flings spells with regularity because of their high Starting Focus and high Focus Gain, albeit with a lesser degree of effectiveness due to the -1 Power Level. Because they have more Focus than other Ciphers, this leaves them open to selecting the Biting Whip upgrade of Soul Whip, which creates a very “balanced” Cipher with decent spells and solid weapon damage. Alternatively, if you favor spell casting, then select the Draining Whip upgrade instead.

The other type of Ascendant is the kind that aims to hit Max Focus while in combat as quickly as possible. This means taking the Draining Whip upgrade of Soul Whip in order to get their faster and they will also need to take the Keen Mind passive in order to begin combat with more Focus. Ascendants playing this way will attack with weapons in the early stages of combat to “build up” their Focus and then unleash a devastating barrage of spells on their opponents. Because this takes a bit of time to accomplish, it is advised that these Ascendants Multiclass, so they have Abilities they can use while they build up to Max Focus. You can reach max Focus crazy fast if you choose an Assassin.


As an Ascendant you will be Focus Starved until you reach Max Focus and become “Ascended”. Ideally you would become Ascended quickly in order to gain the benefits that go along with it. The other option is instead just casting spells regularly, with the penalty, accepting that your spells will be less powerful but more frequent.


Beguilers are the Crowd Control experts of the Cipher Class. They specialize in debuffing the enemy and make very good Single Class “casters”, as well as make excellent Mindstalkers.

Bonus: +20% Range with Cipher Deception spells. (+5 Focus +1 for each Power Level) on scoring a Hit with a Deception spell against a Flanked, Body Afflicted, or Mind Afflicted target.

Penalty: Soul Whip provides less bonus damage and reduced Focus against targets that are not vulnerable to Sneak Attack.

Just like the Ascendant there are really two ways to play this Subclass. The first is by choosing mostly Deception spells and taking the Draining Whip upgrade of Soul Whip, in order to spam Crowd Control and Afflictions on your enemies with prejudice. Because Beguilers gain Focus back when casting Deception spells on Afflicted targets, they will be able to cast Deception spells with more regularity than any other type of Cipher spell. With this sort of Build you will sacrifice damage for Crowd Control, and you’ll be regulated to a mostly “caster” role.

The second is by Multiclassing the Beguiler with a Rogue (Mindstalker) and taking the Biting Whip upgrade of Soul Whip, to increase your damage with weapons against Sneak Attack vulnerable targets. Rogue’s gain +50% damage with weapons against Flanked, Body Afflicted or Mind Afflicted targets because of their Sneak Attack Passive Ability, so there is a natural synergy here. This gives you a nice blend of damage and Crowd Control, albeit from melee range, and is extremely fun to play.


Sneak Attack works well with the Beguiler because they have nearly identical bonuses.

Soul Blade

Soul Blades are the melee specialists of the Cipher Class, but lack the melee Active Abilities necessary to succeed as a Single Class.

Bonus: Gains “Soul Annihilation” ability: a soul-enhanced melee strike that consumes the cipher’s remaining power pool to converts it into Raw damage on the target. All Cipher spells cost -5 Focus. Downing an enemy with a Melee Weapon temporarily grants Concentration and raises Max Focus by +10 for 37.5 seconds.

Penalty: Starting and Max Focus is reduced by -5 + -5 at certain Power Levels.

Soul Blades gain a very powerful Ability called “Soul Annihilation” that uses all accumulated Focus in one powerful Raw Damage attack, that only uses the weapon in your primary hand, which is why it’s better with Two-Handed weapons. Soul Blades can also use Shred Abilities with ease, due to their reduced Focus Cost. Soul Blades can choose to focus heavily on melee, focus more on the use of Shred Abilities, or somewhere in between. This is controllable by the Soul Whip upgrade you take, where you place your Ability Points, and if you Multiclass.

Because Ciphers have no real melee Active Abilities other than Soul Annilhation, it is recommended that Soul Blades Multiclass with another melee-type Class in order to get best results. Multiclassing gives the Soul Blade Abilities they need to build Focus, which in turn allows them to use Soul Annihilation. BarbarianPaladins , Rogues and Fighters are all great choices.


Soul Annihilation consumes all of your Focus and adds it as Raw Damage to your attack. Raw Damage bypasses all forms of Armor so it will always add the amount listed.

Paladins possess an ability called Flames of Devotion that not only hits extremely hard, but also gives +10 Accuracy. This virtually ensures you will connect, and therefore build Focus. This allows the Cipher to dump Perception in favor of other Attributes like Might, which boosts damage. It also allows the Cipher to use Savage Attack of the Great Sword for further increased damage.

Barbarians can use Barbaric Blow, which does increased Damage and Critical Damage. If you Dual Wield Rapiers and use their ability Needle Strike, you will gain +20 Accuracy, allowing you to dump Perception and pump Might. Since Barbaric Blow can be upgraded to refund the cost if you kill the target with it, you can create a never ending cycle of Barbaric Blow, Soul Annihilation, Barbaric Blow, Soul Annihilation.

Rogues deal incredibly high damage because of Sneak Attack and Backstab, and fill up your Focus rather quickly, allowing for frequently maxed out Soul Annihilations. This is an insanely powerful combo, and anyone is sure to enjoy playing it.

Fighters have many abilities that increase your DPS, like Disciplined Strikes, that help to steadily increase Focus gain. They also have many defensive abilities, which can benefit anyone, and the Soul Blade will make good use of them from melee range.

No Subclass

No Subclass Ciphers have freedom to Multiclass with any Class, but fall short of the Ascendant or Beguiler when it comes to Single Class play.

Bonus: None

Penalty: None

Players opting for no Subclass when playing a Cipher will play much the same way that the Soul Blade does, only instead they can use any weapon type, even ones that are not melee. This allows them to Multiclass with other Classes without any negative effects, and I would not recommend playing a No Subclass Cipher unless you plan to Multiclass. This is because Ascendant and Beguiler are much more powerful Single Class Builds.

No Subclass Ciphers are recommended to Multiclass with martial Classes due to their natural increase to Weapon Damage. However, unlike the Soul Blade, Ranger is a viable option here because you do not need to be in melee range.


In the table you can see how the different Cipher Subclasses compare at a glance.

Attributes and Races

The last thing we’re going to cover here is Attributes and Races and how they affect the Cipher. The game recommends that all Ciphers have Might and Intellect and highly recommends that they have Dexterity and Perception. Might increases your damage, which all Ciphers can use. Intellect increases the Duration of your abilities, which makes Echos and debuffs last longer. Dexterity increases your Action Speed, allowing you to attack and cast spells faster. And Perception increases your Accuracy, which is vital because you do not gain Focus if you miss with your spell or attack.


You can see the game recommends Might, Dexterity, Perception and Intellect for Ciphers. The game will recommend these no matter which Subclass you choose.

Just exactly how much of these you should have depends on the Subclass you selected, and I will make my recommendations along with Race below:

Ascendant – Prioritize Perception, Dexterity and Intellect, in that order. This is because Ascendants are primarily casters and will need to hit often with their attacks to build up Focus. When they do have Focus they want to cast quickly and to great effect. Elf is probably the best choice of Race here because it increases Perception and Dexterity, although Godlike and Orlan are also good.

Beguiler – Prioritize Perception, Intellect, Might, Dexterity in that order. This is because Beguilers, like other Ciphers, need to strike in order to gain Focus, but then want their Deception abilities to last as long as possible. Might will help melee versions of the build, but if you’re more of the caster type, then prioritize Dexterity instead. Godlike is a solid choice here because it increases Perception and Intellect.

Soul Blade – Prioritize Perception, Might, and Dexterity in that order. This is because Soul Blades will use weapons more regularly than most other Ciphers, so will benefit more from Might. They still need the Perception to make sure they strike, but Soul Blades are more of a DPS role and therefore won’t worry too much about Duration, which is why Intellect is not listed. Elf or Aumaua are both solid choices here.

No Subclass – Prioritize Perception, Dexterity, Intellect and Might in that order. This is because by not selecting a Subclass you can play as a caster, a melee fighter, or a ranged character if you wish. However, you will still need Perception, Dexterity, Intellect and Might no matter what you choose. If you decide to Multiclass then you may wish to swap these around depending on what your other class is, but this order is a safe bet. Again Elf is probably the best choice of Race here, but this may change if you Multiclassed.

Final Tips

It is recommended that if you are playing a Single Class Cipher that you play as some sort of ranged character (unless you chose Soul Blade). This is because you will not want to be up close and personal when casting your spells as you may be hit or interrupted. Using a Bow, Firearm or Magical Implement will serve you well in this regard.


Keeping your distance with a ranged weapon will help keep you out of harm’s way.

When Multiclassing a Cipher it is recommended that you choose a martial class to mix it with such as the ones listed under the Soul Blade section or even a Ranger. The reason for this is because Ciphers gain a passive increase to their damage with weapons and MUST strike with them to build Focus. It is a bit counter intuitive to play a Wizard as your second Class, for example, because you will not build up Focus while casting Wizard spells. The same goes for Priest or Druid, however, Chanters can work well because they can increase their attack speed with Firearms.

It is a good idea to look for abilities that increase your Accuracy, because you gain no Focus if you miss your target. In addition, spells don’t gain Accuracy like many Abilities do, so you will need all you can get to make sure your spells connect too. Abilities that increase Misses to Grazes, Grazes to Hits or even Hits to Critical Hits are also extremely useful in helping you to build Focus, so look for those and take them if you can. Passives that increase damage are also very good, because the more damage you deal, the more Focus you will gain.

Two very good Fighter passives that will greatly increase your Focus Gain should you Multiclass.

Lastly, be on the look out for equipment that reduces your Recovery or increases Accuracy, and try not to wear extremely heavy Armor or you won’t be able to attack as often, which will reduce your Focus Gain. Try to use the lightest Armor you feel you can get away with.

Stay tuned for more Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Class Guides as we cover all 11 Classes as well as Character Creation! What did you think of the Guide? Was it helpful? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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One comment on “Pillars of Eternity 2 Deadfire Guide: Cipher”

  1. Niteshade_Runesoul says:

    I’ve been heavily debating on whether to Start my first playthru in Deadfire as a Soulblade Cipher/Stalker Ranger or paired with a no subclass fighter and planning to play in melee with about medium armor but I’m having trouble weighing the pros/cons between multiclassing with either Fighter or a Stalker Ranger, or if I’d just be better off trying a Fighter/Ranger and give up my wonderful melee/magic hybrid.

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