We Are Stupid – Episodes 51-74 (Magus Edition)

Some people know all of the rules to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but many, many more do not. Here’s a list of the things we screwed up in our never-ending search for Pathfinder perfection…

Matthew here, for a special bonus We Are Stupid. The way I see it, poor Joe’s been stupid for so long, we might as well give someone else a turn. Especially since we’re now going to discuss a subject that’s become near and dear to my neuroses: the magus, and her spell combat and spellstrike abilities.

So, this week, while battling the dwarf-spider caster, Della, using spellstrike in combination with spell combat, cast Frigid Touch and opted to deliver the spell through her whip, which provoked an attack of opportunity. The caster missed, and Della confirmed a critical hit, effectively dismantling the caster and sending Troy into abject misery.

Cool, right?

Not remotely. Oo, golly. So much stupidity here, and, in researching this (and thanks to some hints along the way from some very patient listeners), it’s become clear that I’ve been using these abilities incorrectly literally THE ENTIRE TIME DELLA HAS BEEN ON THE SHOW.

Let’s go to the tape:

Spell combat, an ability granted to a magus at level one, allows her to “make all of her attacks with her melee weapon at a –2 penalty and can also cast any spell from the magus spell list with a casting time of 1 standard action.” So, while in melee combat, Della could effectively cast Shield or Magic Missile (rolling to cast defensively, of course) AND swing with the scimitar. AND take a five-foot step somewhere in there. Awesome.

But let’s say the magus were to cast, oh, I don’t know, Shocking Grasp. Shocking Grasp allows its caster to make a free touch attack to deliver the spell, as part of the standard action involved in casting it. So spell combat allows a level one magus in melee combat with an enemy to do the following as a full-round action:

-Cast Shocking Grasp (rolling to cast defensively)

-Roll a touch attack to touch the enemy with her off-hand to deliver the Shocking Grasp (at a -2)

-Swing with her scimitar (at a -2)

(And, of course, any normally allowed swift and/or free actions, like a five-foot step, anywhere along the way, which can be used to avoid casting defensively, but let’s not get into that here.)

Makes sense, right? Okay, so then, at level two, the magus gains the spellstrike ability, which allows her, whenever she casts a spell with a range of “touch,” instead of delivering the spell with her hand, to deliver it through her weapon (though against regular AC and not touch AC). Why might she do this? Higher attack bonus, additional weapon damage, expanded crit range, to name a few. And as we’ve learned (more on this later), when the weapon crits, so too does the spell it’s delivering. Which can make for an…electric combination.


But here is where things went completely off the rails. The spellstrike ability does not replace the melee attack roll. Yet, for reasons past understanding, I concluded that that’s exactly what it does, effectively combining two rolls into one. Why? Well, not to put too fine a point on it: I am stupid.

I mean, holy ineptitude, Batman. Think of all of the moments this would have turned the tide. After every miss against Grenseldek, Della should have gotten her ACTUAL scimitar attack. And here’s the (debated) kicker: if Della misses with that attack roll that’s part of the spell’s casting, the scimitar is still charged with the spell! That means she essentially gets a second chance to deliver all of that sweet, sweet Shocking Grasp damage.

(Side quest: there is some debate about whether or not the weapon holds the charge on a spellstrike miss. Normally, on a miss, the caster’s hand remains charged with a spell with a range of “touch” indefinitely, or until she either touches something or dispels the spell. Here’s where the gray area comes in for me: what does the miss actually represent in the game? For a touch attack, it’s pretty clear: you fail to touch your enemy. But when rolling against regular AC, it’s less cut and dry. Say you roll your attack with the sword and beat your enemy’s touch AC, but don’t get past their armor bonus. You’ve missed, but didn’t you make contact? Doesn’t this suggest your weapon clangs off the enemy’s armor? Wouldn’t this kind of miss, then, discharge the spell? We’ve ultimately ruled you hold the charge regardless (mostly to keep the math simple), but what do you all think?)

Anyway, to sum up, Della’s full-round attack using spell combat and spellstrike could go thusly:

-Cast a spell with a range of touch (rolling to cast defensively)

-Swing with the scimitar to deliver the spell (at a -2)

-Swing with the scimitar for her normal attack (also at a -2)

I mean, wow. I suspect Troy’s monsters are about to feel a lot of pain.

And back to the moment at hand, Whipgate, and the final dose of stupid. There’s nothing saying a magus HAS to use spellstrike. Della could have simply attempted to deliver Frigid Touch as a touch attack (and would have crit on a natural 20 regardless), and never have incurred the attack of opportunity. If only the person playing her wasn’t so dumb.

This whole thing is apparently not an uncommon confusion (as seen herehere and here), and I’d argue the clause “as part of a melee attack” in the spellstrike definition is unnecessarily confusing. But there’s really no excuse, except, you know, stupidity. The listeners have been trying to tell us for weeks. And, after all, it’s not like we had someone who’s played a magus before* in our number. Or a GM who’s run a game with a magus** in the party. Or someone who’s guested in that game as a magus***. Or the king of all nerds****.

If you’re still reading this, you’re a hero. I hope you’ve enjoyed my being stupid as much as I have. I’ve certainly grown accustomed to it.





Editor’s Note: Since we use crit cards, when Della crits using spellstrike, we use the spell critical on the card and whatever multiplier it says for the spell crit (normal damage, double, etc.) we use that for the weapon as well.

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Doug Sundseth
Doug Sundseth

Spell Combat does not give you extra attacks. It can give you spell damage on the attacks you would otherwise make. See the FAQ here: http://paizo.com/paizo/faq/v5748nruor1fz#v5748eaic9r45 Note that if you have multiple attacks and an effect like Chill Touch that allows multiple spell touch attacks, you can use up one “charge” on each attack. Also (from the same page, though a different place), note that touching your weapon does not count as touching anything for purposes of discharging a spell. If you miss your attack, you still have the charge. If you are disarmed, you still have the charge. If… Read more »


Spell Combat doesn’t give you extra attacks but it does let you cast a spell while making a full attack action. If you cast something like Shocking Grasp you get a free touch attack as past of that casting. Spellstrike though lets you deliver touch spells through your weapon so by choosing to deliver shocking grasp through the weapon you can effectively gain an extra attack that way as part of the casting of the spell. Because the FAQ specifically calls out weapon attacks it seems more like it is clarifying that you don’t lose any weapon attacks when using… Read more »