Is it better to buff or debuff?


Advice


In the midst of building a witch and seeing the Fortune, Misfortune and Evil Eye hexes, a question arose. Which would be better to focus on? Buffing or debuffing?

I can see the benefits of each, and I suppose to an extent they end up with largely the same end result. Where you don't have to make saves to buff yourself or allies, the enemy would get saves against debuffs. So that sort of makes me think buffs are slightly better. That said, some of the debuffs are likely able to cripple opponents quicker if they fail their saves.

I'm curious as to everyone else's thoughts on this. Which do you prefer between buffing and debuffing, and why? I realize they're likely neck and neck, and that it may simply depend on the buff or debuff in question, but if you had to choose between the two, which would you choose?


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Pathfinder Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

You want Misfortune before Fortune.

The reason is simple. The hexes can only be used on a person once per day. You will normally encounter many more foes than allies, so going Misfortune allows you to use the hex more often.

If you can get Cackle and Fortune at the same time, that slightly changes things since you would be able to use it on the ally for one whole battle. I still would get Misfortune first.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

The other thing to consider is that the numeric effect may be the same in the end (-2 AC on foe vs. +2 to hit on an ally), the quantity of effect is usually greater on a debuff (the save is the price).

-2 AC on foe = +2 to hit for every teammate
-2 to hit on foe = +2 AC to everyone on your team
-2 saves on a foe = +2 DC on yours and every other offensive caster/ability user on your team

Silver Crusade

I have a 15 level mystic theurge in PFS. The character is a necromancer 3/ cleric of pharasma 3 / MysticTheurge 9.

Over his carrier, I found it was best to focus on buffing. With the Haste spell for example, I don't have to worry about the DCs to resist my character's spells, what is the strong save of the opponent, if the opponent has SR......I just lay down the haste spell and watch the barbarians and fighters chop things up.

So on the whole I think it is better to buff your party.


depends the buff or debuff you are applying.

For example bless and bane. Bless is alright. Bane is garbage.

Haste is awesome, slumber stupidly awesome.

Generally debuffs are much more powerful in that they cuase you to win if the bad guy fails. I am not aware of any buff that is an autowin.


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Before fully discussion the advantages and disadvantages, note this- you are a witch. You generally have stronger debuff than buff abilities. So... yeah for that. The following discussion can basically be summarized as: should I pick a witch or a bard? - ie- the value of buffing vs. debuffing, using one of the best examples of each type.

Ultimately, I feel it depends on party composition. Many buffs can be applied to multiple party members (haste, inspire courage, etc.). Also, ignoring defensive buffs for a moment... a lot of common buffs are also more melee focused. So basically- buffing tends to work better when you have a lot of martials.

Debuffing, in comparison, often focuses on a single creature (unless it is a battlefield thing that may also hit your own guys; but witches tend to be more single target for this discussion). And while you can debuff things like its attacks to 'give the party +2 AC' as it is termed... that is usually against a single enemy- most good encounters have multiple enemies. But if you targeted its saves... then may the wizard got off a dominate and now there is a big nasty brute in the middle of the enemy camp.

Debuffing tends to see a lot more use when you are caster heavy. Tanking saves, forcing rerolls with worse results... there is a lot you can do that helps the casters get off SoS spells. And often, a caster only needs one good SoS spell before they can ignore that enemy (since it is dominated, in a pit, cursed with horrible penalties, just frozen, etc.).

I am oversimplifying a lot of this... but I typically find it works out this way. Bards multiply martials, and witches multiply casters.


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ElyasRavenwood wrote:

I have a 15 level mystic theurge in PFS. The character is a necromancer 3/ cleric of pharasma 3 / MysticTheurge 9.

Over his carrier, I found it was best to focus on buffing. With the Haste spell for example, I don't have to worry about the DCs to resist my character's spells, what is the strong save of the opponent, if the opponent has SR......I just lay down the haste spell and watch the barbarians and fighters chop things up.

So on the whole I think it is better to buff your party.

While I do agree with you Im pretty sure your a little biased as theurges lag behind full casters in terms of save dc and CL.

I find buffs to be better(in general) because
1. They always work. Haste can be used in any fight while many monsters are immune to many debuff stats effects. While this can be worked around it requires investment
2. Saves + Spell Res. Essentially you have 2 chances for buffs to fail against many opponents while buffs still always work
3. A debuff lasts only as long as the enemy does while buffs remain in effect until your allies drop. In general I hope my enemies drop before my allies do

That said there are specific debuffs that are pretty great(icy prison, create pit, glitterdust, etc) that are definately worth taking

The Exchange

Debuff. If an enemy can take no actions, you have all the time in the world to beat him down, no?

Unless he's super resistant to spells, aka a Dragon.


Blake's Tiger wrote:

The other thing to consider is that the numeric effect may be the same in the end (-2 AC on foe vs. +2 to hit on an ally), the quantity of effect is usually greater on a debuff (the save is the price).

-2 AC on foe = +2 to hit for every teammate
-2 to hit on foe = +2 AC to everyone on your team
-2 saves on a foe = +2 DC on yours and every other offensive caster/ability user on your team

That logic can be reversed though:

+2 AC on ally = -2 to hit for all foes
+2 to hit on ally = -2 AC for all foes
+2 DC on ally = -2 to saves for all foes

The important thing to consider is that buffing/rebuffing should be done to the smaller side, as the smaller side has more opportunities to interact with the other side.

Liberty's Edge

Yeah, to some degree it's a numbers game in terms of single-target buffs and debuffs. If you're outnumbered, buffing is better point for point, if you outnumber the foe, debuffing is better point for point.

Of course, whole group buffs or debuffs are better yet, point for point, no matter the numbers.

Personally, I think buffing tends to be better in general, just because debuffing usually allows a Save (and can thus fail), while buffing doesn't (and thus always works).

All that said, Witches have some tricks to get around some of the downsides of debuffing (Evil Eye + Cackle leaps to mind), and are generally miles better debuffers than buffers, so you should almost always go debuff primary on a Witch.


Pathfinder Lost Omens Subscriber
Third Mind wrote:

In the midst of building a witch and seeing the Fortune, Misfortune and Evil Eye hexes, a question arose. Which would be better to focus on? Buffing or debuffing?

I can see the benefits of each, and I suppose to an extent they end up with largely the same end result. Where you don't have to make saves to buff yourself or allies, the enemy would get saves against debuffs. So that sort of makes me think buffs are slightly better. That said, some of the debuffs are likely able to cripple opponents quicker if they fail their saves.

I'm curious as to everyone else's thoughts on this. Which do you prefer between buffing and debuffing, and why? I realize they're likely neck and neck, and that it may simply depend on the buff or debuff in question, but if you had to choose between the two, which would you choose?

when asking this question, it's better to understand how much the effect will impact the enemy. A single debuff on 1/10 enemies isn't as useful as a single buff on 1/5 of the party. However, a single debuff on a single tough enemy versus a single buff on one of your party members isn't as useful.

carefully read when a buff or debuff will apply to more attacks and be more beneficial.

likewise for this reason if you can debuff multiple enemies it MAY be more useful than a single buff, however it may not if there are significantly more enemies than friendlies.


magispitt wrote:

That logic can be reversed though:

+2 AC on ally = -2 to hit for all foes
+2 to hit on ally = -2 AC for all foes
+2 DC on ally = -2 to saves for all foes

The important thing to consider is that buffing/rebuffing should be done to the smaller side, as the smaller side has more opportunities to interact with the other side.

And it should be noted- those numbers are against EVERY enemy. The debuff is often against only 1 enemy. Unless your GM throws out a big stupid boss fight with no minions running about... then the buffing is stronger when just looking at throwing around raw numbers.

Not that debuffing doesn't have its place. A witch matched up with an SoS wizard is like a pair of teleporting rogues getting flanking full attacks with eachother time and again- you can just shut down an enemy round after round. So debuffing is less about raw numbers, and more about assured takedowns.

So again- better when you have casters. So a witch/wizard/bard/cleric party would be VERY strong, since the witch could cripple an enemy's saves, and then one of the other party members would throw out a crippling spell at their leisure, and the rest could either finish it of or focus on another enemy.

Meanwhile, a bard would own in a bard/paladin/cleric/magus party, since he could help others tear down enemies faster.


I think one other thing that has been hinted at a little and alluded to, but not quite out right said is the type of buff.

As many people have said, if you debuff saves, you are really only helping other casters. Whereas if you debuff AC, you are only helping martials. Haste is an amazing buff for a barbarian, fighter, or paladin, but not so much for a wizard.

So party composition can be a major contributing factor to not only whether you buff or debuff, but how you do so as well. So if your only options for debuffing tend to focus around debuffing saves, but you are the only caster in a party of martials, you might want to look into your buffing options instead.

Another minor thing that may or may not be a factor for you is how much credit you want to get for your role. When you debuff an enemies AC, and a martial kills them, most of the glory still goes to the martial, even if they would have missed if you hadn't debuffed. If you haste them though, and the first hit doesn't kill them, but the second one does, it's much more apparent that your assistance played an important part. There will obviously be some table variation here, as some tables will recognize and appreciate the input of a caster, no matter what. But sometimes, some players, especially the types that play Big Dumb Fighter types, will see a caster cast a spell that doesn't hurt the enemy, and then question the casters usefulness when it's still up to them to eat through the enemies HP, even if the caster was helping them do their job better.

Silver Crusade

Dastis wrote:
ElyasRavenwood wrote:

I have a 15 level mystic theurge in PFS. The character is a necromancer 3/ cleric of pharasma 3 / MysticTheurge 9.

Over his carrier, I found it was best to focus on buffing. With the Haste spell for example, I don't have to worry about the DCs to resist my character's spells, what is the strong save of the opponent, if the opponent has SR......I just lay down the haste spell and watch the barbarians and fighters chop things up.

So on the whole I think it is better to buff your party.

While I do agree with you Im pretty sure your a little biased as theurges lag behind full casters in terms of save dc and CL.

I find buffs to be better(in general) because
1. They always work. Haste can be used in any fight while many monsters are immune to many debuff stats effects. While this can be worked around it requires investment
2. Saves + Spell Res. Essentially you have 2 chances for buffs to fail against many opponents while buffs still always work
3. A debuff lasts only as long as the enemy does while buffs remain in effect until your allies drop. In general I hope my enemies drop before my allies do

That said there are specific debuffs that are pretty great(icy prison, create pit, glitterdust, etc) that are definately worth taking

True enough, as a Mystic Theurge I found buffs utility spells and summoning worked out best for that character. I also have an 11 level air elementalist wizard in PFS. I have found for this character, its best to have a variety of spells on hand to deal with a variety of problems. I have found Arcane bond" object which allows my character to cast once a day any spell in his spell book to be priceless and has gotten us out of more then one jam.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
magispitt wrote:
Blake's Tiger wrote:

The other thing to consider is that the numeric effect may be the same in the end (-2 AC on foe vs. +2 to hit on an ally), the quantity of effect is usually greater on a debuff (the save is the price).

-2 AC on foe = +2 to hit for every teammate
-2 to hit on foe = +2 AC to everyone on your team
-2 saves on a foe = +2 DC on yours and every other offensive caster/ability user on your team

That logic can be reversed though:

+2 AC on ally = -2 to hit for all foes
+2 to hit on ally = -2 AC for all foes
+2 DC on ally = -2 to saves for all foes

The important thing to consider is that buffing/rebuffing should be done to the smaller side, as the smaller side has more opportunities to interact with the other side.

Those aren't all actually equivalent.

+2 AC on 1 ally = -2 to hit for foes not choosing to attack someone else
+2 to hit on 1 ally = -2 AC to the 1 enemy he's attacking that round
+2 DC on 1 ally = -2 saves to the targets of his spell (this is a better option)

But there are lots of things to consider for each spell: how many targets it affects (bless hits everyone on your team, use it), other advantages (haste hits all/most on your team AND gives you an extra attack, use it).

To consider on buffing, you don't need max casting stat and can increase others like Dex or Con.


Lots of good comments here on the relative value of each from an optimization perspective. I just want to add that - from a fun perspective - I think debuffing is much more exciting to play. The reason is that a) most debuffs give a save (or require an attack roll etc) so when your turn comes around there is some uncertainty about what the result will be and b) debuffs muck up the GM's plans in a way that most buffs don't (invisibility being a big obvious exception) - it's fun to see the look on the GM's face when you stagger the creepy seven tentacled bbeg and he realizes that instead of seven attacks with grab he has one. In contrast, buffs like Haste have a very obvious and predictable effect - your party members will deeply appreciate them - but your turn passes without a lot of fun/excitement factor: "I turn on Haste" And there was much rejoicing. Next person's turn.

Also, having played a witch to level 15 in PFS, I'll add that the two roles are not mutually exclusive. My witch uses debuffs in combat much more than buffs, but she also routinely uses all her level 3 spell slots to put Extended Heroism on everyone in the party. Also, while she has easily used Misfortune 10 times for every time she used Fortune, those occasions where Fortune was needed, it was usually to avoid a TPK by ensuring that a front-liner made his save every round.

Overall, my witch used Misfortune as her bread and butter for much of her career (esp once you have Split Hex), but was also very glad to have Fortune when it was needed. I used Evil Eye rarely, but to my surprise I'm finding that in Seeker level play it has renewed utility, mainly because of running into stuff with SR and AC so high that nothing gets through without some Evil Eye debuffing.


For spells, debuffs in the classical sense of "-X to hit" are usually not very good, while buffs are usually quite good.

Reason being, they're balanced roughly equally, but the debuffs provide saves, where buffs always work. Compare haste and slow, bless and bane, etc. etc.

That said, spells that do not debuff so much as remove actions, are usually on par or superior compared to spells that buff.

Compare Bull's Strength and Blindness, Enlarge Person and Color Spray, etc.

For hexes, debuffs are usually better than buffs, because they can be used more freely.

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