Alas!! It will take me a while before I can get combustion! Not until I can do Cold Trail, and that is def nowhere now!
Playing Elementalist is great fun, but just so skill point expensive! to have to build up 3 basic skills - strike that - 4 including staff mastery! aint easy! Just managed to get to lvl 9 with Lightning 2, Fireball 1, Ice 2 and Staff 3. Oh, I did get mage armour 2 just to get the resistances, although i have seen it being said that even 1 point in that is enough, for traps.
It's not that much once you understand that you cant take a bigger step than what's allowed by the lenght of your legs. If you were to, say, try to rush Lightning 4 at a low lvl, you would absolutely suck, because it will drain a mana that you just simply cannot afford at your lvl. So, indeed the best thing to do is to gradually increase them sequentially one by one, and they'll be optimal at the lvl you're at.
One tip on traits, I consider Mage Staff the best because it is the most round out in terms of traits.
It has 3 traits that add damage (!!!). Int, Agi and Awa all increase your damage.
Sure thing Int gets the preference, but always improve the others when increasing the previous would cost more than double of the next.
Example: before buying Agi 3 (which costs 3 points), get Awa 2 (from 0 to 2 it costs 3 points). Awa 2 is also good for a few places with gas traps, so that you dont have to take Adaon with you for that single purpose, so I suggest getting it early. And each 2 Awa will give you +1 damage. No need to get Awa past that thou, since you can get Amulet of Dark Whispers at the early mid game (I did at lvl 13 but I dont recommend, I almost died on IM), which will give an extra +2 Awa (thus giving an extra +1 damage and +1 armor).
My Agi I settled at 4, and my Int at the end of the game (lvl 25) at 8 or 9, I dont exactly recall. Push Agi and Int to 2 (because it's cheap), than go Int 5, Agi 3, Int 6, Agi 4 and then put all you have on Int.
End I kept at 0 during a good chunk of the early game, when for 2 at mid game and kept it at it all the way, I dont exactly recall but I believe I went with End 3 only at late game. Str is 0 for the entire jorney (I believe I got it to 2 after getting End 3, Im not exactly sure).
With extreme Int, Awa 2 and Amulet of Dark Whispers, I never need scrolls to find secret doors (save for 1 at the Abbey of St Admus which is a spoiler, and there may be one or another that you need a scroll for, I dont remember by now). Each 2 Int increases 5% perception, so with Int 6-8, Awa 4 (2+2) you'll always find all.
Also, get Per to 4, both for a bigger mana pool and also for passing skill checks on conversations (and with Bishop ring giving +2, you'll pass ALL skill checks in the game).
Int 5, Agi 3/4 (+1 with the gloves you can buy early on with the Golden Hand), Awa 2 (+2 from amulet), Per 3/4 (+1 from ring you also buy with the Golden Hand) and you'll be able to pass all trait checks in the game by the mid game already. (Only at late game there will be some that will require Per 6, but by that time you'll already have Per 4 and +2 Bishop Ring, so it's also fine).
And, with Awa 2 (+2) and Per 3/4 (+1/+2), even your Gossip percentage will be incredibly high, there aint no way you'll ever miss a town hall quest or rumor boss. I never even ever needed to store items with the Gossip trait for that, I just go into the Taverns and Im universally loved.
And for Mage, there's no "useless" traits - Int gives ton of damage and mana, Agi and even Awa gives damage and armor, even Per also gives mana.
There's no going wrong here. Mages are just simply speaking, good at EVERYTHING