To UMD or not to UMD, that is the question


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Silver Crusade

So I'm making a new PC with high intelligence and low charisma, and I was debating the Pragmatic Activator trait to use int instead of cha for Use Magic Device. Note that it's already a class skill.

But what's it really used for? Is it worth investing a trait and a ton of skill ranks, since it has to be maxed out to be useful? It's mostly just for scrolls and wands, right?

I guess it's mostly about what scrolls and wands you think would be useful for the individual PC. In my case, I mostly play PFS, where you can buy scrolls and wands freely, so availability isn't an issue.

I'm intentionally keeping this general, rather than talking about my specific build, because I want to start a conversation about what spells make great scrolls and wands for UMD, and what types of characters would be best to train or avoid this skill.


Well it has at least one other use besides wands and scrolls. The Item Mastery Feats all take UMD ranks as prerequisites.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I like the UMD skill. Even as a wizard, I like having it. It means I can use just about any item we find in loot drops.

This said, it depends a lot on the sort of campaign you're running. It doesn't require you to have too much investment. If your CHA is really dumpoed, then Pragmatic Activator could be useful. Even without that, maximum skill ranks will eventually make it a nearly automatic success.


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UMD is one of the most powerful skills in the game when you have access to scrolls and wands. I would take it if you can max UMD.

Good wands:
Mount, Longstrider, Cure Light Wounds/Infernal Healing, Mage armor, False Life, Mirror Image, Grease (Grapple help and difficult terrain), Protection from X, Lesser restoration, Obscuring Mists, Endure Elements

Good Scrolls:
Defending Bone, Stoneskin, Fly, Resist energy, Life Bubble, Heroism, Keen Edge, Swarm spells (Burning hands, Flaming Sphere, fireball), Barkskin, ablative Barrier, Overland Flight.

The lists can go on...this is just off the top of my head.


Can't really think of anyone UMD is not useful on. I mean if you have a coordinated party I might only have 2 people invest. However as individual characters definitely worth everything spent from a min max perspective. Only thing I might rate higher is perception

Everyone- protection from alignment, cure light wounds, lesser restoration, keep watch
Archers- gravity bow, enlarge person(bring big ammo)
Melee DPS- enlarge person
Sneak Attack- vanish
Buffers- everything
Divine casters- arcane spells
Arcane Casters- divine spells

Silver Crusade

Wheldrake wrote:

I like the UMD skill. Even as a wizard, I like having it. It means I can use just about any item we find in loot drops.

This said, it depends a lot on the sort of campaign you're running. It doesn't require you to have too much investment. If your CHA is really dumpoed, then Pragmatic Activator could be useful. Even without that, maximum skill ranks will eventually make it a nearly automatic success.

The DCs to do anything with UMD are 20+. When you start at low levels, as in many campaigns, and Pathfinder Society, that means it'll be at least level 5 with heavy investment in the skill before it works reliably. Without heavy investment, you have to wait until level 10+ to use it.

Maybe that's why I undervalue it a bit. I mostly play Pathfinder Socity, where you start at level 1, and mostly end after level 11 (there are exceptions). UMD is great at higher levels, but unreliable and expensive at the levels I play most frequently.

Grand Lodge

It's great for wands as the DC remains 20 for all wands regardless of spell level. Also they're mainly used out of combat for buffs/healing from what I've seen, so you just keep rolling UMD until you succeed (or roll a 1, but you're more likely to succeed).

Honestly, even with only a +6 or +7 UMD at level 1 they'll still be useful out of combat for healing/buffing, so it's not just useful at levels 5+.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Add me to the long list of people that like UMD, especially in PFS where it is so trivial to get wands and the group changes every time.

There are a lot of out of combat wands that can be very useful: endure elements, longstrider, comprehend languages, and the ever popular cure light wounds. Feather step and residual tracking can make a huge difference.

I don't think you need to max the skill for it to be useful -- it certainly isn't as bad as Escape Artist in that way -- but I can think of reasons why you might want to.

Silver Crusade

I like it under some circumstances, and for some kinds of PCs. I'm just trying to get a better feel for what type of PCs are worth focusing on it vs when investing in it is a waste.

For instance, someone above mentioned wizards. They don't get it as a class skill, it keys off a stat that's frequently their dump stat, and they already have so much magic that I have to think it isn't worth the effort. But if they take a trait to make it use intelligence, and/or a trait to make it a class skill, then they could be pretty good at it, and use it to cast the occasional divine spell from a scroll or wand.

Bards, on the other hand, tend to have good charisma, get it as a class skill, have plenty of skill ranks to spare, and get less magic in general than a wizard, so it's almost always worth the investment for them.

And then there are fighters, who often have lousy charisma, lack skill ranks, and don't get it as a class skill. I don't think I've ever seen a fighter with UMD trained.

Rogues get it as a class skill, and have plenty of skill ranks, but they don't necessarily have good charisma. It'll require a significant investment to make it work reliably for them, but by higher levels, it'll be worth it. But at low levels? Maybe skip it until you're high enough level to put a few skill ranks at once.

I took the Pragmatic Activator trait on my witch, to be able to use UMD with intelligence instead of charisma, and it's already a class skill by default. But that PC's personality is all about magical curiosity and trying to learn as much about magic as possible, so it fits perfectly. So far (just hit level 4), the only thing I've used it for is a wand of Prestidigitation. She's a very clean witch (playing against type on the old hag stereotype).

The PC I'm now creating for PFS is an alchemist, of the bomb throwing variety. So I don't need self buffs as much as a front liner style alchy. And alchemist's have an extract list that's already very good for what they do, and can use wands of any spell that matches their extracts. So I'll already be able to use the most common wands in PFS (Cure Light Wounds, Comprehend Languages, Endure Elements, Enlarge Person, Reduce Person, Shield, Lesser Restoration, etc), along with some lesser used stuff, like Identify that makes up for the class's lack of Detect Magic.

I'll have the skill ranks, but is it worth the trait for Pragmatic Activator to use my high intelligence? I'm having a hard time thinking of scrolls and wands I'd use it for, and there are other traits I want to take. Note that I'm probably dumping charisma, so without the trait, this skill will be awful for me.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

As an Alchemist you have access to a lot of the important healing/status removal spells: CLW, CMW, CSW, CCW, Lesser Restoration, Remove Curse, Remove Disease, Restoration, Neutralize Poison, etc.

Given that, I would not consider it vital to have the skill.

I don't agree with all of what you've said above and most certainly have seen fighters take UMD to good effect. That said, in your specific case here it isn't as important as other things might be.


Fromper wrote:
Wheldrake wrote:

I like the UMD skill. Even as a wizard, I like having it. It means I can use just about any item we find in loot drops.

This said, it depends a lot on the sort of campaign you're running. It doesn't require you to have too much investment. If your CHA is really dumpoed, then Pragmatic Activator could be useful. Even without that, maximum skill ranks will eventually make it a nearly automatic success.

The DCs to do anything with UMD are 20+. When you start at low levels, as in many campaigns, and Pathfinder Society, that means it'll be at least level 5 with heavy investment in the skill before it works reliably. Without heavy investment, you have to wait until level 10+ to use it.

Maybe that's why I undervalue it a bit. I mostly play Pathfinder Socity, where you start at level 1, and mostly end after level 11 (there are exceptions). UMD is great at higher levels, but unreliable and expensive at the levels I play most frequently.

You can take the Skill Focus feat for that skill and accelerate that usefulness by 3 levels.

Liberty's Edge

I saved my party with UMD once. The witch's familiar and I (a rogue) were the last ones standing. I got the witch back to positive HP with her wand of CLW.

Plus, the rogue gets so many skill points tat you can easily keep UMD maxed out.

Grand Lodge

For my alchemist (melee) I wanted swift girdling and long strider. So I put a fair number if ranks into it. Long strider has been great swift girdling has yet to come up. So I think a score of 5 would have been enough.

Silver Crusade

I remember once failing to save a party member that way. I think my sorcerer had about +15 UMD at the time, and the only healer in our group that day was a bard. This was for PFS, where you play with whoever shows up for any game, so the party composition changes every time.

Anyway, the bard went down to very negative HP, where he was only a round or two from bleeding out. I grabbed the wand of UMD, and rolled a 2. I used a shirt reroll, and got a 3. I think this was before you added your GM stars to reroll results. The bard bled out and died the following round.

I've since advanced that sorcerer another couple of levels, and upgraded his charisma headband, so he's up to +20, and doesn't have to roll to use wands any more. So he's a backup healer now, using wands and UMD. But that's a class, like bards, that get UMD as a class skill and already have high charisma, so it's easy for them to be good at it without having to invest traits or feats.


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You've probably seen Wands for Everyone!, but her it is again.

I've built for wands before and it does work and it is useful but -that- waiting until it becomes viable is not fun. Theconiel mentions skill focus but that's a feat and a trait you lose. I'd be mapping it all before I did that.

Alternately, you could retrain into it at a level when it would become viable.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

You could always buy a Wand Key Ring if it is just one spell you really want to be able to activate.


UMD is easy and fantastic for Bards. I've also found UMD useful with a PC who is mostly a Fighter though. He has low Charisma but used a trait to get UMD as a class skill, and he does OK. I would have used a trait to use Int instead of Cha, but he already had one like that for Intimidate. I didn't go with Skill Focus since he's an orc with very heavy investments in Combat feats, but a human with Focused Study could probably do so without too much sacrifice.

As for saving the party, my Bard/Paladin was once the only party member (3 PCs, 2 familiars, and an animal companion) not turned to stone. He rode a Phantom Steed back to town to buy a bunch of scrolls he could only use via UMD.

There's an ability called Tattoo Chamber which could make wands even better, but I guess that only helps if you're playing the right class or willing to multiclass.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Rather than waste skill points on it, grab an ioun stone or headband keyed to UMD. It takes time before UMD really becomes reliable, and by the time you can afford those items, it's about that time.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Yeah, UMD is worth the investment for anyone who can afford it. I completely get that some people don't want to do it for RP reasons and I respect that but from an optimization standpoint there's basically nobody who doesn't benefit from it. Something like a melee cleric is going to have a hard time with it (skill starved, often feat starved, not a class skill, and they'll probably dump Int and neglect Cha), but they can gain a lot from it if they can squeeze it in. I've even taken it on several different fighters!

One had 13 Cha and took dangerously curious and eldritch heritage; he went with the arcane bloodline and bonded to his weapon so he could enchant it himself (which I know isn't a great option in society play) but you could go with something like orc for the buff or fey for some control. Another one was an eldritch guardian with pragmatic activator and like 14 Int; he had VMC Magus (which isn't society legal iirc) for the arcane pool but would have been viable without that, and could have done something like the student of war PrC. The most out there one was probably my kitsune fighter- he had 16 Cha with dangerously curious and all of the magical tail feats (which still left him with enough feats to be an able melee combatant).


Yeah, the RP reasons can really hold you back. The PC I'll likely play tomorrow is 19th level and could easily have UMD 20+, but he considers arcane magic to be "unmanly". He's happy to let a female Archmage buff him up, but casting such spells himself is out of the question. Mirror Images sure would be useful when fighting a CR 28 dragon with Quickened True Strike though - ouch!!!


I consider the DC of 20 to Use Wand to be unacceptably high for my all of my character builds to date. So far, if I really want my character to be able to use a Wand, I just dip into that class. I can usually find more than 1 reason to dip anyway.


Personally, I've never really had much use for UMD. The value is obvious if you plan to use it regularly, but it just never really meshed with my playstyle.

Part of it is I tend to hoard resources past the point where they might be useful. I tend to favour permanent magic items instead of limited use ones, and when given something like a wand in treasure, I don't want to waste it. So, in the search of the perfect opportunity to use the wand or scroll, I generally hold back. The perfect being the enemy of the good and all that.

For instance, my group recently had to descend a 2000 foot cliff. It was a large party with lots of NPCs, roughly 10 individuals total. 3 of whom were good climbers who wouldn't have a problem, 1 of whom could fly and took the small-sized character with them. My sorcerer cast spider climb on the remaining 5 characters rather than use a wand of fly with 25+ charges remaining on it. My reasoning being why use up wand charges when my spells can do the trick?

All that said, in that same party we have a rogue who invested in UMD, and I heavily encouraged them to take the wand of scorching ray because it gave them one more trick in their bag. Similarly, the rogue rarely pulls it out, because they generally have a throwing knife handy, and those are a lot cheaper to replace.

Another factor can just be the type of campaign you're in. You could bet that if the GM really pushed us, forcing us to use up our every last personal resource, those wands/scrolls/potions would see a lot more use, particularly if they managed to split the party so that we didn't usually have the right type of caster on hand.

Shadow Lodge

Devilkiller wrote:
Yeah, the RP reasons can really hold you back. The PC I'll likely play tomorrow is 19th level and could easily have UMD 20+, but he considers arcane magic to be "unmanly". He's happy to let a female Archmage buff him up...

Oh I bet he is. *eyebrow waggle*


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TriOmegaZero wrote:
Rather than waste skill points on it, grab an ioun stone or headband keyed to UMD. It takes time before UMD really becomes reliable, and by the time you can afford those items, it's about that time.

This. I honestly can't believe how basically nobody else has mentioned this basic dynamic.

Until you are roughly 1/3 (if not more) thru the 1-20 level slog, UMD will simply not be reliable enough to waste an action in combat or "time demanding" situations on. So you're better off putting that skill rank/level into skills which your level-appropriate skill CAN actually hit DCs on reliably. There are many skills where you don't need to max them 1-20 but it's nice to have moderate bonuses especially at low levels, like Climb/Acrobatics/Swim.

You probably will then want some Cure Potions and the like, but that's exactly what they exist for, and in the meanwhile you are making the most of your limited skill resources as a character. Single-use items also don't require heavy upfront investment of a wand, which is nice especially at low-mid levels.

Of course, if your character has such a surplus of skills they don't know what to do with them, go ahead and put it in UMD. Of course, if you can manage a very high bonus to UMD, it could make more sense to put ranks into UMD "naturally" from low level. But in the vast majority of cases, waiting until an Ioun/Headband makes UMD reliable is an efficient use of character resources.


Even being able to use a wand of CLW or Infernal Healing via UMD while out of combat can be pretty useful at low levels. I could imagine this being even more helpful in PFS, where you can't be sure that anybody else with healing abilities will show up for a scenario. Potions always work, but wand charges are way cheaper. I guess they can both have their advantages.


Occultists get bonuses, and thematically it fits quite well.

Liberty's Edge

Ridiculon wrote:
Well it has at least one other use besides wands and scrolls. The Item Mastery Feats all take UMD ranks as prerequisites.

What book are Item Mastery Feats in? I tried following that link, but since it went to D20pfsrd (which is often a bit of a mess and is not the official Paizo PRD) I didn't get much useful info from it :(

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Section 15: Copyright Notice wrote:

Pathfinder Player Companion: Magic Tactics Toolbox © 2016, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Alexander Augunas, Steven T. Helt, Thurston Hillman, and Ron Lundeen.

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Scarab Sages

I'll agree with Occultist, since it's built into the class, and they have limited spell lists.

Also, another class I haven't seen mentioned is Investigator. Especially if you're going to take Pragmatic Activator (mine did). Since the ruling that Investigators can't activate spell trigger items, UMD is even more important for them. And, you've got Inspiration to help hit those high DCs at crucial moments.

I've maxed it on my Sorcerer as well, since he already had the high Charisma for it. He's pulled off one Breath of Life, and he keeps a LOT of Cleric scrolls on hand for when he ends up in a party without one.

Archers can make good use of UMD and a Wand of Gravity Bow.

EDIT: Almost forgot. It's not maxed for my Ninja, but I think I'm up to +20 now. She used it for a Wand of Shield, mostly.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber
Ferious Thune wrote:
Since the ruling that Investigator's can't activate spell trigger items, UMD is even more important for them.

Ye gods, seriously? Thanks for giving me the heads up.

Scarab Sages

TriOmegaZero wrote:
Ferious Thune wrote:
Since the ruling that Investigator's can't activate spell trigger items, UMD is even more important for them.
Ye gods, seriously? Thanks for giving me the heads up.

Yeah. I'll have to track it down. It happened at the same time as the errata, I believe. The line everyone expected to be added stating that they could activate them wasn't added. Someone asked, and was told it was intentional that they not be able to.

EDIT: HERE's a post from Mark confirming it was intentionally left out. There might have been something more formal, but this is what I could find.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

ACG FAQ.

Scarab Sages

TriOmegaZero wrote:
ACG FAQ.

Thanks. I thought it made it somewhere more official.


Its pretty good actually, even beyond wands and scrolls.

See that beneficial magic circle in the BBEG's study that no one could identify? Activate blindly and see what happens. (the first time this happened to me, my halfling rogue became some human chick and seduced the merchants in the city into a scam)

Found some nice magic gear restricted to a specific class/race (especially those freaking elves)? Emulate them!

15 ranks UMD unchained is even better. More reasons to be a Phantom Thief for your mid level games.


My opinion, you only really need a UMD skill of +5 if you're planning on using it with only wands that apply long duration buffs (plenty useful of those buffs out there).

Dumping more skill rank into UMD is useful but I find those ranks better used elsewhere.

With a wand you can try over and over again till that dreaded 1 on a d20 comes up.

So taking a trait for using INT for UMD might be nice at 1st level. Just don't think its worth it later on. As theres so many other useful traits.


Matt2VK wrote:

My opinion, you only really need a UMD skill of +5 if you're planning on using it with only wands that apply long duration buffs (plenty useful of those buffs out there).

Dumping more skill rank into UMD is useful but I find those ranks better used elsewhere.

With a wand you can try over and over again till that dreaded 1 on a d20 comes up.

So taking a trait for using INT for UMD might be nice at 1st level. Just don't think its worth it later on. As theres so many other useful traits.

I wonder what probably is of rolling a 15+ before you roll 1, or 13+ if CHA was dumped.

I also wonder what your list of useful long duration buffs is.


Here's all the *long* duration (1st level) wands I like to carry around that I have found useful.

Spells -
Longstrinder 10' extra movement. Duration 1 hour

Heightened Awareness +2 Perception/Knowledge checks, +4 Initiative. 10 Minutes

mage Armor +4 AC. 1 Hour

Comp Lang 10 minutes

Read magic (this is actually a 0 level) 10 minutes

Endure Elements 1 hour

Feather Step ignore difficult terrain. 10 min

Goodberry 2D4 berries that heal 1 each. 24 hours


Endure elements is 24 hour duration.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

And my 10th level druid STILL hasn't used all 50 charges...


I mistyped the time for Endure Elements :)

Really, about the only wand I use UMD for on all my characters that do UMD is Longstrider & Heightened Awareness. The others are useful but more situational.

Scarab Sages

Longstrider is one I should definitely pick up for my gnome investigator. I can add it to a fairly long list of buffs he uses before entering a dungeon.

For some reason, I thought feather step was 2nd level. But it is, indeed, 1st. I'll give that one some thought.


For non-PFS out of combat spells there's probably someone in your party who can activate any given wand without UMD.

In-combat some classes will have enough spell slots that they will be too busy to use wands, others will be busy delivering relatively mundane attacks. There are a few classes/builds which will get some serious use out of wands of spells not on their class list, but they're not that common IME.

Use Magic Device is a skill that only a minority of characters I'd play would have. The last time was a case where no one else was covering the healing (other than CLW wands) and my sorcerer had to step up and UMD the necessary scrolls of restoration etc.


avr wrote:

For non-PFS out of combat spells there's probably someone in your party who can activate any given wand without UMD.

In-combat some classes will have enough spell slots that they will be too busy to use wands, others will be busy delivering relatively mundane attacks. There are a few classes/builds which will get some serious use out of wands of spells not on their class list, but they're not that common IME.

Use Magic Device is a skill that only a minority of characters I'd play would have. The last time was a case where no one else was covering the healing (other than CLW wands) and my sorcerer had to step up and UMD the necessary scrolls of restoration etc.

All good points.

My only mentions are:
A: UMD helps with self/personal spells that someone else can not give to you.

B: Sometimes the person who can use the items without UMD can go down. I've seen the cleric drop down and the skill guy UMD+raise dead scroll him back to life. It is not common but it does happen.


Fromper wrote:
... In my case, I mostly play PFS, where you can buy scrolls and wands freely, so availability isn't an issue...

PFS is where it is most extremely useful. You never know who is going to sit at the table with what sorts of characters.

Had one just last week where no one had spellcraft ranks to identify the wand we found. One guy used UMD to blindly activate. Turned out to be a wand of water breathing that saved us later in the scenario.

I've been at several tables with no divine caster, but we found or purchased necessary restoration/remove blindness/cure disease scrolls.

I know a guy who played with people that usually only buffed themselves. So his fighter invested in UMD and bought several low level buff wands to use on himself. Much cheaper in the long run than potions.


UMD if focused on at lower levels is extremely powerful not all characters are based upon damage.
yea the need to do damage at the expense of everything else is simply not true, speaking to people can allow you to walk through many encounters without even drawing a weapon. bluff diplomacy and intimidate are all charisma based skills that a fighter could have access to at lvl 1 with the cosmopolitan feat. there are builds out there that have use for non damage based skills/feats linguistics and UMD can be used to great effect with traits and abilities.

Put in perspective lvl1 half elf- any class
skill focus UMD +3, Magical aptitude +2, 1 rank, class skill +3, charisma or Int +3, dangerously curious +1= +13 at lvl 1 without the min/max build so a +7 or more on the wand or 8+ for a lvl1 spell scroll.

think outside of combat as the game does not always require it. and the ability of a fighter to use some of his feats for not combat abilities it is ok not everyone plays the cookie cutter run and chop things to death over and over again build.

Shadow Lodge

sardepon wrote:

UMD if focused on at lower levels is extremely powerful not all characters are based upon damage.

yea the need to do damage at the expense of everything else is simply not true

No one is saying it is.


Marc Radle wrote:
Ridiculon wrote:
Well it has at least one other use besides wands and scrolls. The Item Mastery Feats all take UMD ranks as prerequisites.
What book are Item Mastery Feats in? I tried following that link, but since it went to D20pfsrd (which is often a bit of a mess and is not the official Paizo PRD) I didn't get much useful info from it :(

I believe it is from the Magic Items Toolbox. See the bottom of each SRD page.

Big thread on Item Mastery:
Item Mastery Feats & the Magic Items That Fuel Them - A study
Yeah, I did a lot of work in it. :-)
This post directly links to each of the feats.
Later, it has items to make use of the feats.

----

As for usefulness, my character was dying (below 0 hp) and his familiar was able to UMD a healing wand to save him. Granted, he had a lot of ranks, but an animal familiar does not have the Cha bonus he had, so it was not a sure thing.

/cevah


I'm a big fan of UMD when I can work it into my build. I have had a rogue and a summoner both successfully activate scrolls of breath of life. I also had the same rogue start dumping fireballs into a swarm from a wand.


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

Wands and scrolls that you use up negatively affect wealth by level, whereas wands and scrolls that you sell and replace with permanent magic items don't.

Best to skip UMD unless you have a plan of action for it. I wouldn't take it "just because."


Personally I think it depends on what the composition of a party is. If it already has cleric, wizard, etc., then there is less of a niche to fill. If it is a party of 12 barbarians and the 13th "warrior" is a rogue, however . . .

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