Any spell that requires an attack roll and deals damage functions as a weapon in certain respects, whether the spell deals normal hit point damage, nonlethal damage, ability damage, or energy drain. Such spells can threaten critical hits, can be used in sneak attacks, and can be used with favored enemy damage bonuses. You can even use a number of combat-enhancing feats from the Player’s Handbook to improve the effectiveness of weaponlike spells, as noted in Chapter 3 of this book.
All such spells deal damage as spells, not weapons, so Strength modifiers to damage and magical effects that increase weapon damage (such as the bard’s inspire courage ability and the prayer spell) don’t increase damage from a weaponlike spell. Likewise, a weaponlike spell that deals normal damage can’t be used to deal nonlethal damage or vice versa (except when modified by the Nonlethal Substitution feat or in accordance with the specific regulations of a nonlethal spell duel as described on page 176).
Unless the spell description says otherwise, a weaponlike spell threatens a critical hit on a roll of 20 and deals double damage with a critical hit. Only damage that the spell deals in the round it strikes is increased by a critical hit. For example, if you score a critical hit withMelf’s acid arrow, only damage dealt in the first round of the spell’s duration is doubled.
Some weaponlike spells depend on a saving throw to determine the damage doubled on a critical hit. For example, disintegrate deals 2d6 points of damage per caster level on a failed Fortitude save, but only 5d6 points of damage on a successful save. If a critical hit is scored and the target makes its saving throw, it takes 10d6 points of damage; on a failed save, it takes 4d6 points of damage per caster level, and in both cases is disintegrated if reduced to 0 or fewer hit points by the spell.
Extra damage from a critical hit is of the same type the spell deals normally. For example, ray of frost deals 1d3 points of cold damage, so a critical hit deals 2d3 points of cold damage. Likewise, a critical hit with an energy-draining spell deals twice its normal damage. A critical hit with an enervation spell bestows 2d4 negative levels, for example.
Spells that require attack rolls but do not deal actual damage cannot score critical hits. For example, ray of enfeeblement requires a ranged touch attack roll, but since the target of the spell takes a penalty to Strength (rather than Strength damage), the spell cannot score a critical hit. Chill touch, on the other hand, deals 1d6 points of damage and 1 point of Strength damage (not a Strength penalty) unless the target makes a Fortitude saving throw, and so would deal 2d6 points of damage plus 2 points of Strength damage on a critical hit with a failed save.
Any weaponlike spell can be used to make a sneak attack, including ranged spells used against targets within 30 feet (just as with any other ranged sneak attack).
A successful sneak attack with a weaponlike spell deals extra damage of the same type as the spell normally deals. For example, a 10th-level rogue/3rd-level wizard who makes a successful sneak attack withMelf’s acid arrow deals 2d4 points of acid damage, plus an extra 5d6 points of acid damage for the sneak attack (with the spell continuing to deal acid damage as normal in subsequent rounds). The exception is spells that deal energy drain or ability damage, which deal negative energy damage on a sneak attack, not extra negative levels or ability damage. For example, a 5th-level rogue/8th-level sorcerer who makes a successful enervation sneak attack bestows 1d4 negative levels and deals 3d6 points of negative energy damage.
If a sneak attack with a weaponlike spell results in a critical hit, the spell damage is doubled, but not the extra damage (as with any sneak attack critical hit).
Some weaponlike spells can strike multiple times in the same round. When the caster gets a bonus on damage with such spells (including sneak attack damage), the extra damage applies only to the first attack, whether that attack hits or not.
For example, a 7th-level sorcerer/3rd-level rogue with Point Blank Shot makes a scorching ray attack at less than 30 feet (two rays, each requiring a ranged touch attack roll and dealing 4d6 points of fire damage). If the first ray hits, it deals 6d6+1 points of fire damage (4d6 normal + 2d6 sneak attack + 1 for Point Blank Shot), while each subsequent ray deals only 4d6 points of fire damage whether the first ray hits or not.
Ranged spells include those that require ranged touch attack rolls, such as rays or hurled missile effects (examples include Melf’s acid arrow and lesser orb of acid, described on page 115). This category also includes spells that generate effects that act as ranged weapons and require ranged attack rolls (but not ranged touch attack rolls), such as decapitating scarf or fire shuriken (described on pages 102 and 107 respectively).
Touch spells include any damage-dealing spells with a range of touch.
The following feats can be chosen to enhance the performance of weaponlike spells in combat (for full details on each feat, see Chapter 5 of the Player’s Handbook).
- Improved Critical: Choose one category of weaponlike spells (ranged spells or touch spells). When you use a spell of the selected category, its threat range is doubled, so that a
spell that normally threatens a critical hit on a roll of 20 has a threat range of 19–20. You can gain this feat a second time, choosing a different category of weaponlike spells.
- Improved Unarmed Strike: You can add the damage of your unarmed strike to the damage of a touch spell by delivering the spell as a regular melee attack instead of a melee touch attack. The defender gets the full benefit of armor and shield, but if the attack hits, the unarmed strike deals normal damage over and above any damage the spell does as it is discharged. If the unarmed strike misses, then the spell is not discharged. If the unarmed strike scores a critical hit, damage from the spell is not multiplied.
- Point Blank Shot: You get a +1 bonus on attack rolls and damage rolls with ranged spells that deal hit point damage at ranges of up to 30 feet. Spells that deal only ability damage,
bestow penalties on ability scores, or deal energy drain gain a +1 bonus on their attack rolls but get no bonus on damage.
- Precise Shot: You can fire a ranged spell at an opponent engaged in melee without taking the usual –4 penalty on your attack roll.
- Stunning Fist: When you use your unarmed strike to deliver a touch spell with a successful
melee attack (as described in Improved Unarmed Strike, above), you also stun any target that fails a Fortitude save (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your Wis modifier).
- Weapon Finesse: You can treat touch spells as light weapons and use your Dexterity modifier (instead of your Strength modifier) on your touch attack rolls with such spells.
- Weapon Focus: Choose one category of weaponlike spells (ranged spells or touch spells) and gain a +1 bonus on all attack rolls made with such spells. You can gain this feat a second time, choosing a different category of weaponlike spells.