Why can't I sneak attack with fireball?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


I'm just curious. I know the arcane trickster gets Surprise Spells, but why can't a mundane rogue sneak attack with a lightning bolt or other AoE damage effects if they are used on or by him? Too powerful?

For example, the alchemist in my party wants to give me an infusion of detonate and have me go into the enemies invisible after drinking it. Why doesn't the detonation deal sneak attack damage? Is it because it doesn't target weak spots?


Less justification for precision damage with an area, I suppose.

Melee and ranged touch attack spells operate more like standard weapons (attack rolls, able to crit, etc.) so it makes more sense to be able to apply precision damage like sneak attack.


well it's the capstone for a Orc for a reason. I don't know what the world explanation is for it but any rogue being able to. do it would be unbalanced.

Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

Thematically, sneak attack is by it's nature a precise attack, that's why it's 'precision based damage'.

Fireball is sort of the opposite of precise. It's not really aim-able beyond "That big area over there". Detonate has the same problem.


Benchak the Nightstalker wrote:

Thematically, sneak attack is by it's nature a precise attack, that's why it's 'precision based damage'.

Fireball is sort of the opposite of precise. It's not really aim-able beyond "That big area over there". Detonate has the same problem.

Though lightning bolt would certainly make sense for being precision.


erik542 wrote:
Benchak the Nightstalker wrote:

Thematically, sneak attack is by it's nature a precise attack, that's why it's 'precision based damage'.

Fireball is sort of the opposite of precise. It's not really aim-able beyond "That big area over there". Detonate has the same problem.

Though lightning bolt would certainly make sense for being precision.

Why? It effectively fills the squares it goes through.

It's not like it's a lightning strike would flash fry a single small point on an individual.


For most things like this the answer is simple.

If you do not make an attack roll to see how well you hit, then how can you aim it better to do extra damage?

Any spell with an attack roll can crit and can apply precision damage.


vuron wrote:
erik542 wrote:
Benchak the Nightstalker wrote:

Thematically, sneak attack is by it's nature a precise attack, that's why it's 'precision based damage'.

Fireball is sort of the opposite of precise. It's not really aim-able beyond "That big area over there". Detonate has the same problem.

Though lightning bolt would certainly make sense for being precision.

Why? It effectively fills the squares it goes through.

It's not like it's a lightning strike would flash fry a single small point on an individual.

Lightning bolts hit everything in a square, that does not mean that they take up an entire square (see arcing).


You have to make an attack roll to center a fireball up someone's nose.

SRD wrote:
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A glowing, pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball at that point. An early impact results in an early detonation. If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must "hit" the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely.

emphasis mine

I say sneak attack!


Quantum Steve wrote:

You have to make an attack roll to center a fireball up someone's nose.

SRD wrote:
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A glowing, pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball at that point. An early impact results in an early detonation. If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must "hit" the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely.

emphasis mine

I say sneak attack!

The attack roll is to get the “bead” through or past an obstacle not to hit an opponent. So no Sneak Attack.

Sneak attack is “Precision Damage” it’s like hitting a pressure point, or finding a chink in the armor. Fire ball and lightning bolt do not allow for that kind of control.


Daniel Gold wrote:
Quantum Steve wrote:

You have to make an attack roll to center a fireball up someone's nose.

SRD wrote:
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A glowing, pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball at that point. An early impact results in an early detonation. If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must "hit" the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely.

emphasis mine

I say sneak attack!

The attack roll is to get the “bead” through or past an obstacle not to hit an opponent. So no Sneak Attack.

Sneak attack is “Precision Damage” it’s like hitting a pressure point, or finding a chink in the armor. Fire ball and lightning bolt do not allow for that kind of control.

Fireball is a bead that you "shoot" at wherever your trying to detonate the ball. What is that if not control? Would you argue that a fireball originating from inside someone's head would not do more damage than one originating 10 feat away?

Dark Archive

Quantum Steve wrote:
Daniel Gold wrote:
Quantum Steve wrote:

You have to make an attack roll to center a fireball up someone's nose.

SRD wrote:
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A glowing, pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball at that point. An early impact results in an early detonation. If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must "hit" the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely.

emphasis mine

I say sneak attack!

The attack roll is to get the “bead” through or past an obstacle not to hit an opponent. So no Sneak Attack.

Sneak attack is “Precision Damage” it’s like hitting a pressure point, or finding a chink in the armor. Fire ball and lightning bolt do not allow for that kind of control.

Fireball is a bead that you "shoot" at wherever your trying to detonate the ball. What is that if not control? Would you argue that a fireball originating from inside someone's head would not do more damage than one originating 10 feat away?

As Daniel and Thazar said, precision damage can be applied only to spells that need an attack roll to hit *and* cause HP damage. So you could use Melf's Acid Arrow or even Ray of Frost, but not Lightning Bolt, Fireball or Magic Missile. It's how the rules are, regardless of how such a spell would/should theoretically work.


Quantum Steve wrote:
Daniel Gold wrote:
Quantum Steve wrote:

You have to make an attack roll to center a fireball up someone's nose.

SRD wrote:
You point your finger and determine the range (distance and height) at which the fireball is to burst. A glowing, pea-sized bead streaks from the pointing digit and, unless it impacts upon a material body or solid barrier prior to attaining the prescribed range, blossoms into the fireball at that point. An early impact results in an early detonation. If you attempt to send the bead through a narrow passage, such as through an arrow slit, you must "hit" the opening with a ranged touch attack, or else the bead strikes the barrier and detonates prematurely.

emphasis mine

I say sneak attack!

The attack roll is to get the “bead” through or past an obstacle not to hit an opponent. So no Sneak Attack.

Sneak attack is “Precision Damage” it’s like hitting a pressure point, or finding a chink in the armor. Fire ball and lightning bolt do not allow for that kind of control.

Fireball is a bead that you "shoot" at wherever your trying to detonate the ball. What is that if not control? Would you argue that a fireball originating from inside someone's head would not do more damage than one originating 10 feat away?

Only spells that require attacks rolls can crit.

prd wrote:
Spells and Critical Hits: A spell that requires an attack roll can score a critical hit. A spell attack that requires no attack roll cannot score a critical hit. If a spell causes ability damage or drain (see Special Abilities), the damage or drain is doubled on a critical hit.

The only spells that require attack rolls are those that use touch attacks, and ranged touch attacks. Fireballs don't require ranged touch attacks. They are just allowed to just them to get the bead through a small opening.


Ice Titan wrote:

I'm just curious. I know the arcane trickster gets Surprise Spells, but why can't a mundane rogue sneak attack with a lightning bolt or other AoE damage effects if they are used on or by him? Too powerful?

For example, the alchemist in my party wants to give me an infusion of detonate and have me go into the enemies invisible after drinking it. Why doesn't the detonation deal sneak attack damage? Is it because it doesn't target weak spots?

How exactly does one precisely place a 40 foot wide ball of fire on someone's kidneys to do more damage?


We have already covered the attack roll portion well enough, so lets cover the "But why not" portion.

Rogue gets sneak attack with a weapon but a fighter does not. Why can a fighter not go for the spine like a rogue?

Because the class was written that way and that is the only answer that you can get to that question.

So just like that an Arcane Trickster CAN sneak attack with spells while a mage or rogue cannot. The class was written that way.

It boils down to game mechanics and balance. You can do many things in this game if you want, but you have to choose the right combination of skills, feats, and classes to do so. Not every character can do everything.


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Your medical knowledge for sneak attacking is different. I find it reasonable that, although stabbing kidneys is highly effective, electrocuting them doesn't cause any special issues. Maybe electrocuting right along the spine causes extra convulsions if you arc it just right, forcing the person to rip some muscles as they pull their armor funny. That kind of remote motor control is beyond what someone would know about stabbing somebody.

Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

You might be able to hit a precise point on a target with the bead of a fireball, but fireballs have no penetrative force. They explode "with almost no pressure"

So basically, no matter where you hit someone with a fireball, it just expands into a ball of fire and burns them uniformly. (If you're using called shots you might be able to get away with shooting a fireball down a monster's throat, toasting their insides, but you're getting deep into house rule territory there).

As for lightning bolt, you really don't have fine control over it. You create the potential for electricity to travel from point A (your fingers) to point B (240 ft. in whatever direction you point), but it's up to the lightning how it get's there.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Because God hates you.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
TriOmegaZero wrote:
Because God hates you.

Since when is Skip Williams a deity? What's his portfolio? Domains? Divine Rank? :)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Man, Roy would have a field day coming up with that...


You can, just take 10 levels of arcane trickster.


Looking at it another way, it's because sneak attack is the mechanic that simulates called shots.

They didn't want to figure out how much extra damage a called shot to the head was worth, or wing, or liver, or goin - so they abstracted it all by giving some classes the ability to deal extra damage in situations where they would be able to strike a vital area.

fireballs, lighting bolts, all that sort of stuff simply doesn't do that. They're all the grenades and rocket lauchers as opposed to the sniper rifle. Their version of an extra good hit is when the target doesn't save for half damage.

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