Poor old fireball


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

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Does anyone even use it any more?

Monster hit points have crept steadily upwards over the editions, but fireball has stayed fixed at 1d6/level. Back in 1e, when your average ogre had 19 hp (and Demogorgon himself only had 400), a fireball was bad news. A 6th level wizard had a better than even chance of killing that ogre (and any of his friends standing nearby) with one shot. Today the average ogre has 30 hp, and 6d6 of damage is just not that big a deal. Relative to the monsters, fireball is barely half the spell it used to be.

In 3.x, fireball has been overshadowed by ever more powerful buffs and utility spells and save-or-sucks. Even if you want to go blaster, you're probably better off with ranged touch attacks; the go-to damaging spell for the modern midlevel caster is not Fireball, but Scorching Ray.

Thinking about it, I can't remember a single fireball-slinging NPC arcanist in an AP or module. I'm sure there must be some, but I can't recall one offhand. Certainly not one who makes it the center of his tactics. Meanwhile, not a single PC of mine has voluntarily taken fireball since (thinks for a minute) maybe 2004? At third level, they're all grabbing for Fly and Haste and Dispel Magic. Nobody wants fireball.

Really. Nobody wants fireball.

Are we missing something?

Doug M.


His friend Lightning Bolt may be even more depressed. He was never as popular as Fireball, now people forget he is even in the room

He's bitter now. His mind is always drifting back to the glory days when he could bounce off walls and people tried to use him.

It's just been a long day's journey into suck ever since.


I do. I've used it to great effect, too!

Dark Archive

Demogorgon only had 200 hp.

And yes, most evo sucks in 3rd ed (or derived) games.


The only time I've ever used a fire ball with any effect in pathfinder was against a Big bad and minions. My 7th level evoker cast the spell and killed nearly all of the minions making the boss an utter joke. However, nine times out of ten a well placed acid pit is going to get the job done better than a fire ball.

The Exchange

I have seen it used to great effect many times during games. I even saw a PC designed around using fireball almost exclusively. Lightning Bolt as well has seen much use.

maybe your playing a different game?


Ranged touch attack magic really sucks in my opinion. If I had to choose between a blaster spell with a save and one with a ranged touch, I would take the save spell 100% of the time. Especially at low levels. If the target is in melee and you are behind the ally you are looking at trying to hit ~16 AC with a -4 penalty to your attack. Thats ok for the little school powers and cantrips but for a slot? Single target? Too risky for my blood.

Shadow Lodge

My sorcerer currently spams it. Granted, his is technically a frostball, but it does 8d9+16 right now and makes creatures entangled. So, its pretty sweet as a base to modify.


I've never seen Fireball used in 3rd, but I have seen the psionic version of Fireball used by Wilders.

I, myself, with the only 3rd edition PC I've ever played, occasionally used Wings of Flurry, because it had no damage cap and did force damage (and I used Spellthief shenanigans to get a caster level in excess of 20 in my lower teens), but I far more oftened just buffed and hit stuff with my weapon.

Yes, this was 3.5, not Pathfinder, but close enough, I guess.

mishima wrote:
Ranged touch attack magic really sucks in my opinion. If I had to choose between a blaster spell with a save and one with a ranged touch, I would take the save spell 100% of the time. Especially at low levels. If the target is in melee and you are behind the ally you are looking at trying to hit ~16 AC with a -4 penalty to your attack. Thats ok for the little school powers and cantrips but for a slot? Single target? Too risky for my blood.

I am really surprised by this. I feel the exact opposite. I'd always choose the touch over the Save. For one, Touch ACs tend to be stupidly easy to hit--most monsters with ACs in the 20s have Touch ACs below 10. I'd gladly take a -4 penalty to hit a touch AC than have to risk the monster making a paltry save.

Let's take a random CR 6 enemy, how about a Wyvern. They have a Touch AC of 10 and a Fort/Ref/Will of +9/+6/+8. With an Int/Cha of 18, the Save DC is going to be 17. With a Dex of what, 14 (?), your attack bonus is going to be +5.

You'd hit it with a Ray on a 5 (80% hit chance), but would still land it on a 9 with a -4 (60% hit chance). If you actually planned on this sort of thing to any degree, you'd take PB Shot and Precise Shot as feats, which not only ensures the 80%, but gives you the chance for 85% if you're relatively close.

Meanwhile, the Wyvern could make its Fort on an 8 (35% to hit), Reflex on 11 (50% to hit), and Will on a 9 (40% to hit).

So, yeah, much better chance to land the Ranged Touch. You could have an argument if you wanted to talk about expected damage with save for half or partial effects or something, I guess, but I think even the level 2 Scorching Ray would stay competetive with Fireball.

The average damage of Scorching Ray is 14. That's 11.2 expected with 80% hit chance. Fireball at level 6 is averaging 21 damage, for 10.5 expected with a 50% save chance. So, yeah...

Plus, there's the psychology behind it. The touch spell is in my control, while the save is in the monster's, or at least it feels that way.

Shadow Lodge

Yeah, I disagree, I've seen both lightning bolt(PFS, Serpent's Skull) and fireball(RotRL[Empowered too], PFS) in the scenarios and campaigns we've played and I think it is still effective. Mass damage is less effective when it comes to case by case but it does have the effect of cutting the edge of enemy resistance. Sure they might save or have a lot of hp, but they will drop faster as well. Not to mention, evocations still have an effect even if the opponents make their saves. Save and sucks often don't.

For what it's worth, like what most people think, fire isn't really the most ubiquitous resistance, or rather it is, but everything that does include fire res has it in such a small amount as to be nonexistant. Devils and fire elementals have flat immunity, but for most targets fire works just fine, since "fire 10" basically means nothing. I do agree that fireball is severely less effective than in previous editions, but in 3.5 and PF it's so very spammable, since extra spells, slots and domain spells(to list some) are readily available.

And there is still nothing that can beat fireball shot mid-flight into a fire vulnerable creature. Or five!


I would resist taking those feats personally, and there is also allies granting the target cover often. So you would need Imp precise as well.

Psychological reasons granted. :)


I have a guilty pleasure for evocation and fistfulls of dice. i love the large number of damage at long range


Pathfinder Card Game, Companion Subscriber

The OP is looking at fireballing ONE monster in his examples.... that's not the point of fireball. My dragon hunter party closes in with our group Fire Resist 10 and lets the caster lay down the fury. He pings his team for around a total 15-20 between the four of us in melee, sure, but he puts out 150+ against good sized groups of minions and gets them out of the way, while hurting the lieutenants to reduce the damage we have to get on them before they drop as well. Lightning bolt is better for when your team doesn't all have Fire Resist, though, since you can angle it to blast through a few baddies without hitting teammates.

Actually, I wish our caster had opted to be resurrected instead of rerolling when he got eaten (we were ready for a dragon... not a half-dragon dire crocodile. Charge-bite-grab-death roll, followed by death roll-swallow whole... he didn't stand a chance).


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My wizard took out a whole bunch of miffed undead with one well-placed fireball spell. Being undead, they all failed the Reflex save and dropped to the ground, burning. Granted, this was an ideal situation, but still a very good demonstration. Besides, Fireball is a classic, it's like a vintage wine from yesteryear; you just can't not choose it.

(Of course, the undead I killed had the last laugh when they managed to band together as a spirit, possess me, and almost made me kill our Paladin. One painful month-long exorcism later, involving Protection from Evil literally being tattooed onto my wizard's body, taught me to think about desecrating unholy places a bit more carefully next time... but hey, due to the spirit I now speak Abyssal and have permanent defenses against Evil.)


well if you want a better fireball, just get throw anything and toss an alchemist to the mobs
:P

Shadow Lodge

Primal Cold Sorcerer with a Rime colball.

Get your enemies the cool way.


Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
mishima wrote:
I would resist taking those feats personally, and there is also allies granting the target cover often. So you would need Imp precise as well.

Improved Precise Shot is rather difficult to get for an arcanist with its BAB +11 prerequisite.


10 fire resistance is basically -30% off a 10th level fireball. A scorching ray will do 8 damage on average against the same enemy.

That is not nothing.


Haste is the new Fireball...

Low Dex? No problem.
Low DC?
No feats?
High enemy resistances/saves?
Level 5 or level 20, haste is the better spell nine times out of ten. Summoners' wands of haste belong in every rogue's UMD golf bag.

But...

There is a real, visceral thrill to chucking a handful of dice on the table and watching rooms-full of jobbers without name tags fall by the dozen.

Plus, AOE is the DM's friend. It softens up player characters en mass and punishes front-liners all while being ubiquitous... Even the least experienced DM can look at a spell list see FIREBALL and know for certain what the evil cultist is going to do on his turn next round.

I see casters chucking fireballs every time I play the game.


Well, if that isn't looking at fireball in a bit of a vacuum...

Sure, the spell has stayed pretty much the same all the way from 1st edition... but that doesn't mean that it hasn't effectively changed.

Here's a list of other changes since 1e that have bearing on the way that fireball "works":

1) Scribe scroll. Now - every wizard gets the ability at 1st level, meaning that as soon as they are able to cast 1 fireball they are able to scribe as many fireball spells as their time and wealth will allow. Then - only wizards of 11th level or higher are able to scribe scrolls.

2) Spells per day. Now - every wizard starts with 1 1st level spell per day and has 4 per spell level per day at 20th, but is eligible for bonus spells from high Intelligence (2 additional 3rd level spells assuming only a 24 Intelligence by 20th level, which is pretty easy to achieve), and might gain 1 or 2 additional spells per day of each level for being a specialist (standard variety or thassilonian respectively) giving a possible 8 fireballs per day. Then - every wizard starts with 1 1st level spell per day and has 5 of most levels per day at 20th. End of sentence.

3) Wands. Now - a wizard can take craft wand as a feat at the same level they can start casting fireballs, and that spell is eligible for wand usage so the wizard is then only limited by their time and wealth. Then - the character again has to wait until 11th level before being able to enchant a wand.

So, overall, while fireball has stayed exactly the same it's availability for use and stayed at pace with the increase in monster hit points - except for those instances in which it has actually outpaced monster HP by being too easy to get ahold of due to campaign style (long periods of downtime frequently available when the enchanting character has the appropriate funds).

The real situation: Magic has gotten more and more available for use while each individual spell has had its drawbacks cleared away or at the very least stayed exactly the same.

Where is someone mentioning that Meteor Swarm has stayed basically the same the whole time while a 1st edition 20th level magic-user could cast it a maximum of 2 times each day and a Pathfinder Wizard can cast it a minimum of 4 times each day?


thenobledrake wrote:
Where is someone mentioning that Meteor Swarm has stayed basically the same the whole time while a 1st edition 20th level magic-user could cast it a maximum of 2 times each day and a Pathfinder Wizard can cast it a minimum of 4 times each day?

Nobody is mentioning that because very people really remember surviving long enough to cast Meteor Swarm in the old days and because it is obvious and easily apparent that Meteor Swarm is a crappy way to spend that spell slot considering all the instant win button spells available by then. Fireball, though, is totally iconic, and practically every Magic User got to a point where they could use it.

It's almost as iconic as Magic Missile. Of course, nobody uses Magic Missile, either. The smart move is to have Color Sprays and a Scythe (for the x4 coup de grace) ready in your 1st level slots at low levels and buff/utility spells at higher levels.


Auxmaulous wrote:

Demogorgon only had 200 hp.

And yes, most evo sucks in 3rd ed (or derived) games.

Ahem.

Most blasting spells suck in 3rd ed etc.

Play an evoker some time. There are a ton of great evocations that have nothing to do with elemental direct damage.

Tiny hut is but one splendid example.


It really depends on what kind of campaign you are playing in and what your threats are. If you are fighting in mass combat where you are fighting enemies by the hundreds then drop some fireballs and watch them burn to death. I played in a war campaign where we, as 15th lvl adventurers, would fight an excess of 200 lvl 4-8 fighters with about 20 or so advanced units, 10-18th level clerics/arcanists. I can tell you now that having a sorcerer that loved the spell fireball made those encounters possible. If you are fighting single or only a few then I would go with the ranged touch. I built out a pretty ballin white necromancer from Kobold magazine who employed the touch and save or suck attacks of necromancy and the icy AOE damage of evocation. A mix of both is really potent with the right feats.


mplindustries wrote:
thenobledrake wrote:
Where is someone mentioning that Meteor Swarm has stayed basically the same the whole time while a 1st edition 20th level magic-user could cast it a maximum of 2 times each day and a Pathfinder Wizard can cast it a minimum of 4 times each day?

Nobody is mentioning that because very people really remember surviving long enough to cast Meteor Swarm in the old days and because it is obvious and easily apparent that Meteor Swarm is a crappy way to spend that spell slot considering all the instant win button spells available by then. Fireball, though, is totally iconic, and practically every Magic User got to a point where they could use it.

It's almost as iconic as Magic Missile. Of course, nobody uses Magic Missile, either. The smart move is to have Color Sprays and a Scythe (for the x4 coup de grace) ready in your 1st level slots at low levels and buff/utility spells at higher levels.

Fair enough, but my point still stands - fireball may not have changed, but the number of times per day you can expect to use it certainly has.

Combined with numerous spells becoming more powerful over the years (I'm looking at you, haste - gave up on randomly killing people... shameful) and that Wizards get more spells per day of all spell levels, specifically a bare minimum of doubling 9th level spells per day... and it starts to look really silly to say that any part of magic has gotten anything other than a power boost over the intervening years and editions.


Pathfinder Maps, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Fireball has its place. This has been proven time and time again on these forums.

Is it perfect in every situation? Certainly not, but it does remain useful.


A fireballing sorcerer single handeldly broke several encounters in a row on me until I adjusted.

I think it is fantastic

Shadow Lodge

We've pilfered some wands of fireball and lightning bolt from wizards we've killed. I UMD some good uses of them now & again.

Dark Archive

I do miss being able to move carefully into position and bounce a lightning bolt so that it hits a foe twice.

Good times.

I don't miss expanding 33,000 cubic foot fireballs, 'though. More trouble than they were worth, underground or indoors, where all the action was.


thenobledrake wrote:


it starts to look really silly to say that any part of magic has gotten anything other than a power boost over the intervening years and editions.

Why is it silly?

Sure, wizards have more spells now than in 1e. But I don't see how "more spells" translates into "so this particular spell is better".

Doug M.


I see people arguing that fireball has situational use, as a street sweeper against low-level mooks.

I guess maybe. But it's a long fall from the days when my 1e players would see a wizard and instantly scream "scatter!"

Doug M.


I find it odd that fireball creates no pressure. No bullrush/knock-prone effect. Nothin'.


doug, if we ever get hp capped and reduced in the game I think it will get better for the fireball. I totally agree that HP has gotten *too big*. I'm not sure that I'd go back and cap HP at 400 points like 1rst edition but that might be a good score to stop things at.

booger=boy


Auxmaulous wrote:
Demogorgon only had 200 hp.

This is true, except on his home layer in the Abyss, as a lesser god, per 1st Ed Manual of the Planes, he doubled his hit points.

So 400 hp when he was on his home turff.

Sovereign Court

I cast Fireball all the time back in LG with my sorcerer. It's perfect meta-magic fodder, especially as it's usable with the lesser meta-magic rods on the cheap.

Sculpted, Energy Substitution: Electricity, Born of Three Thunders, Empowered Fireballs were amazingly useful. That was D&D 3.5 to be fair, in the Pathfinder RPG so far I haven't gotten many 3rd level spell slots on my characters to even attempt casting one, been drawn to Alchemists or Fighters too much. I know I've been in situations where I wanted a fireball or two and have even seen a necklace of fireballs come in handy.

Always important to remember it's a very large AOE damage spell, it's not designed to really just explode the bad guy in a single hit, it's there to either slay or soften up groups of enemies. Another thing going for it is the extremely long range that it has. Situational but extremely useful when you need it. 200 yards at level 5 is a large threat range.

Now if Disintegrate is as useful as it could be as an attack spell.... :/


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One fireball means you're doing it wrong.

Dark Archive

I never see any AoE spells cast anymore if there is a chance it will hit the party.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

AoE works great against groups of lower level foes. GMs often forget that a CR appropriate challenge can be made of groups of lower CR opponents. It's these battles where AoE (like fireball) shine, saving the party precious resources by expending a single spell. It's pretty cool.


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Goblins Eighty-Five wrote:
I never see any AoE spells cast anymore if there is a chance it will hit the party.

If I am playing a frontliner, I always let the mage know that it is okay to hit me if it nets more damage in our favor. People who are scared of a little damage aren't cut out to play frontliners.

This works particularly well incombination with a travel domain cleric and ice storm. Good times.

Shadow Lodge

Cheapy wrote:

10 fire resistance is basically -30% off a 10th level fireball. A scorching ray will do 8 damage on average against the same enemy.

That is not nothing.

If we assume there's no metamagic or static boni involved and that casters by level ten can't cast several, sure. Otherwise fire 10 is pretty meaningless.


Muser wrote:
Cheapy wrote:

10 fire resistance is basically -30% off a 10th level fireball. A scorching ray will do 8 damage on average against the same enemy.

That is not nothing.

If we assume there's no metamagic or static boni involved and that casters by level ten can't cast several, sure. Otherwise fire 10 is pretty meaningless.

Resistance 10 averages out to be roughly -3d6 damage. That's pretty damn significant.

CR 10 enemies have 150ish HP from what I can see, so normally, they'd take just over four 10d6 damage Fireballs to drop. But with Fire Resistance 10, they'll take six.

Of course, that assumes a failed save. If they successfully save 50% of the time (which is extremely generous), they'll die in six fireballs. It'll take ten to kill them with 10 Fire Resist.

Going off the Dire Lion, a CR 5 creature has about 60 HP. That's normally two 10d6 Fireballs to kill them (assuming they fail their save) or three if they have Resist 10.

Against Dire Lions, who would actually (as opposed to generously) have a 50% chance to save, it'll take three Fireballs vs. needing four with Resist 10.

And all that is at level 10--the ideal level for Fireballing.

The spell sucks for players, unfortunately. However, I agree with other comments that it's still great for the bad guys, since it puts the whole PC team in danger all at once and taxes their resources (even if that danger is minor, ~17 damage still takes an average of 3 charges out of that Wand of CLW), and PCs with Fire Resistance are rarer than NPCs with the same.


My NPCs/villains use it all the time (especially for sorcerers). Spamming fireballs really damages the PCs, and/or forces them to churn through a lot of resources.


I say it again: Dropping one fireball means you're doing it wrong. When you have a more or less collected enemy group, and win initiative against most of the enemies, you throw away three fireballs. Necklace of missiles, other area effect spells, wands with UMD, things like these are all good. You don't compare a fireball to scorching ray for a simple reason: it's something far better. Yes, against ONE target, scorching ray does a little more damage on average, if someone is focused on ranged touch and has all the precise shot feats and so on. With a fireball, it's a whole other paradigm.

Fireball is an area spell, meaning you should be able to hit more than one target, and EVERY target without evasion takes damage. The obvious optimum point is a stack of relatively weak enemies clustered in a 20' radius. I believe that's around 50 medium creatures. Say that you do 10d6 = 35 points, save for half. Add in spell focus, and let's say half manage the save. That is 1325 points of damage dealt. For a third level spell, that's pretty awesome. But it doesn't end there. Dump two more on the same area. Assuming the creatures still live, it's 54-105 damage, depending on the saves they make.

Now, that is just the basic fireball. Fireball is really mostly a template, a starting point. With a relatively low level, you can modify it easily with metamagic. Pathfinder has not come that far with this yet, but maximize, empower and especially energy admixture made it a great spell in 3.5.

Finally, you absolutely have no need for dexterity when dishing out this puppy. It becomes at least somewhat more feasible to dump dex. You will need con as a wizard.


Sissyl wrote:
The obvious optimum point is a stack of relatively weak enemies clustered in a 20' radius. I believe that's around 50 medium creatures. Say that you do 10d6 = 35 points, save for half. Add in spell focus, and let's say half manage the save. That is 1325 points of damage dealt. For a third level spell, that's pretty awesome. But it doesn't end there. Dump two more on the same area. Assuming the creatures still live, it's 54-105 damage, depending on the saves they make.

20' Radius is an 8x8 area, which holds 64 medium creatures. However, there is no normal Pathfinder situation in which you'd face that many enemies.

CR equivalents, for example, only go up to CR+8 for 16 creatures. And jeez, if you're facing sixteen CR 2 enemies at level 10, even the Wizard could probably wade into melee unafraid. Or, crap, Color Spray them. Or, since you're level 10 in this scenario, Black Tentacles, which is way more dangerous.

But yeah, in this instance, CR 2 enemies have HP in the upper teens. And you are not dealing thousands of damage because over half the damage you're dealing is overkill. You only need ~16 damage per target, which means that when you hit 16 guys (the max that makes sense in common situations) only 256 damage total is meaningful.

Sissyl wrote:
Now, that is just the basic fireball. Fireball is really mostly a template, a starting point. With a relatively low level, you can modify it easily with metamagic. Pathfinder has not come that far with this yet, but maximize, empower and especially energy admixture made it a great spell in 3.5.

I don't know about that--adding metamagic increases the level, making it less and less worthwhile. I mean, 60 damage, even in a 20' radius, for a level 6 slot isn't realy worth it, is it?

With metamagic, we're looking at a minimum of a level 4 spell slot, and I don't see any reason to ever use Fireball with any amount of metamagic over Black Tentacles.

Sissyl wrote:
Finally, you absolutely have no need for dexterity when dishing out this puppy. It becomes at least somewhat more feasible to dump dex. You will need con as a wizard.

This must be personal preference, then. I, personally, always prefer avoiding a hit (i.e. Dex) to being slightly better at taking a hit (i.e. Con).


mplindustries wrote:
This must be personal preference, then. I, personally, always prefer avoiding a hit (i.e. Dex) to being slightly better at taking a hit (i.e. Con).

That depends. What level are we playing?


Basically, Sissyl described is what a player recently did a couple playing sessions ago, except against fairly tough enemies instead of weak ones, and against five to ten enemies instead of fifty (depending on the target group). Due to clever terrain control (and tricking them into thinking she was out), she managed to keep groups clustered. Used up five fireballs from the necklace she had and the encounter went from nearly unwinnable to easy. That was a lot of damage.


Fireball may not have change in what the spell actually does but how many fireballs you see in game sure has. I have a Sorcerer in my King Maker game that tosses fireballs around like crazy. He can fire out 17 of them a day not counting scrolls and wands. He has 9 3rd level fire balls and 8 4th level fireballs if he using the Selective Spell Metamagic feat. He's Draconic Gold dragon disciple and fireball just fit his style so while not optimal he loves to do it. That and the +1 damage per dice is nice.


As I said, it is the absolute optimum situation for fireball. Remember, though, that even if you just hit three enemies, you outdamage scorching ray even if all of them make their saves. And, don't forget, a missed ranged touch means NO damage.


Evil Lincoln wrote:
mplindustries wrote:
This must be personal preference, then. I, personally, always prefer avoiding a hit (i.e. Dex) to being slightly better at taking a hit (i.e. Con).
That depends. What level are we playing?

To me, it really doesn't matter. With +1 AC, I reduce the average of all damage that will ever affect me for my entire adventuring career by 5%. That, to me, is vastly more valuable than even +20 HP.

Sissyl wrote:
Remember, though, that even if you just hit three enemies, you outdamage scorching ray even if all of them make their saves. And, don't forget, a missed ranged touch means NO damage.

Scorching Ray can shoot up to three rays, though, which puts it pretty damn close to on par, damagewise. And even though it's still a little behind, it's a level 2 spell, so it's more efficient.

Actually, I'm the guy who was actually aiming the "bead" from Fireball and using it to make ranged touches, to make sure at least one guy ate it. But then, that was also with a heavy sneak attack build, so it made sense.

But yeah, given someone picking Con > Dex, I can see the appeal. I never would though, so I always assume a caster's highest stat after their casting stat is Dex. I wonder if that's why I like Touch Spells or if I do that because I like Touch Spells.


Mileages tend to vary. I always saw it as false economy to ignore hit points and putting it all into dex. Even 20% less chance of being hit doesn't help much if you die the moment you are hit.

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