Baggageboy's Mini Guide to Making the Most of UMD at Low Levels


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


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So I've put together a miniguide I think is super helpful, but I'd like to get others thoughts and suggestions. Here's a link to a Google doc that will contain a living version, but here's what I have so far. Please give your feedback :) Thanks for checking this out

Baggageboy's Mini Guide to Making the Most of UMD at Low Levels

UMD is often touted as being one of the premier skills. That is absolutely true, however, it's not easy to utilize at low levels. By low level I'm talking levels 1-3 where wealth is right and it's difficult to have a very high skill bonus without an inordinate amount of investment. So let's set the stage. Here's a link to the UMD rules.

Major Takeaways:

  • Barring special ability no take 10.
    - This means hitting our DCs with confidence can be hard at low levels.
  • Most skills don't automatically fail on a natural 1, but UMD does. It also added the wonderfull effect that if you do roll a nat 1 you can't use that item for 24 hours.
    - If you have something you need to rely on UMD to do consistantly buy a backup device.
  • Failing by more than 9 creates a mishap, and we really don't want that.
    - We really want to get to a +10 bonus to UMD. This makes a big difference in how automatic we can make using things is.
  • Use a wand is a flat DC20.
    - This is great at higher levels as it's trivial with high skill bonuses, but that's not us.
    - We won't likely be using wands in active combat unless we get VERY desperate.
  • Using scrolls is a DC20+the scrolls caster level
    - Using scrolls is even harder than wands! Bummer
  • If we don't have a high enough ability score we have to emulate it which means rolling twice.
    - We want to avoid this if at all possible as it's another chance to fail, and we will probably be rolling a lot before we succeed.
    - Look for items that can key off of abilieis you already have. If you have high intelligence for example pick items from the wizard, witch, or psychic spell lists. Of you have high charisma we're talking about sorceror, bard, oracle lists. It also means making your wisdom at least 12 will go a long ways to making certain items (cleric, druid) much easier to use.

    Ok so what does this all mean? Basically it means that at low levels we are going to be limited to wands and low caster level scrolls due to both high DCs and low wealth.  Also we can't reliably activate anything in combat (barring special abilities). So what can We do then? We can still use UMD, it's just going to take a long time. So we are going to target items with that in mind. Specifically, items that provide buffs/utility with long duration, or instantaneous effects. We want things that it doesn't matter how many rolls we have to make before they are active and that can last long enough to accomplish something even with a low caster level.

    Getting to the sweet spot:
    So we really want to get to a +10 bonus. At +10 we are never at risk for a mishap when using a wand. Every two points above that means one level higher spell level scrolls that we can use without risking a mishap. For example, a bonus of +11 means that if we roll a nat 1 while attempting to activate a 1st level scroll and assuming a caster level of 1, we'll have a roll of 12 which means we missed the DC21 by 9 and so don't trigger a mishap. At a bonus of 13 the lowest we can roll is 14 which is 9 below the DC23 of a second level scroll (typically caster level 3).

    I'm not going to do an exhaustive list of options you can use to get to this sweet spot. There's plenty of guides out there that can help with that, but I will list some of the basics to illustrate that it's not hard if you are serious about it. Let's assume you have an ability bonus of 3 (cha, or not if you use an ability to switch it,) UMD is a class skill, and you put a single rank into the skill (duh). That by itself gets you to +7. Throw in a trait bonus and feat and +11 is easy at first level.

    Items that are good for low level UMDing:

  • Wands
    - Cure Light Wounds
    (Note: Don't bother springing for higher level versions. In combat healing is rarely a good idea and the limitations on our abilities only make this worse. If you find one great, but don't buy one.)
    - Infernal Healing
    (Note: Better than CLW usually if you can swallow the evil descriptor)
    - Heightened Awareness
    - Mount

  • Scrolls
    - Comprehend Languages
    - Unseen Servant
    - Ant Haul
    - Keep Watch
    - Silent Image
    (Note: This one breaks my no save guideline, but it only allows a save if they interact with it. Also it has a duration of concentration, so in some cases this can be an awesome tool.)
    - Identify
    - Speak Local Language
    - True Appraisal
    - Purify Food and Drink
    - Alarm
    - Crafters Fortune
    (Note: Make those difficult craft checks with confidence for only 25 gp)
    - Instant Portrait
    - Fabricate Disguise
    - Monkey Fish
    - Touch of the Sea
    - Deadeye's Lore
    - Goodberry
    - Obscure Poison


  • I would add a Wand of Endure Elements to the list. This spell is invaluable if you know that you'll be dealing with extreme temperatures, especially during long overland trips. You'll never need to cast it in combat, and it lasts for 24 hours.


    Tim Emrick wrote:
    I would add a Wand of Endure Elements to the list. This spell is invaluable if you know that you'll be dealing with extreme temperatures, especially during long overland trips. You'll never need to cast it in combat, and it lasts for 24 hours.

    Good pick! I will add it. :)


    Whilst you're correct in all the above, I personally wouldn't bother with UMD at all at 1st level, though you might want to pick up the right trait like Dangerously Curious or Pragmatic Activator. You'll probably not have any magic items worth the name until 3rd level or more, you don't have the feats to waste and you would probably be better off using the skill points for that Trained on something you'll actually use.

    After all, a 1st level wand is 750gp and you can't craft it until 5th level so you're paying full price. WBL at 2nd level is 1000gp, so a wand is almost your full quota. Even at 3rd level (3000 gp) it's a whole quarter, so you'd better pick the right wand.

    I never bother with UMD until about 5th level, then I dump 5 skill points into it (assuming rogue, bard, etc). With 14 Cha and a class skill that's +10, enough to be useful. With a sorcerer you probably have more Cha, fewer skill points and feats to waste, so 1 skill point and Skill Focus at 3rd isn't silly, and allows Craft Wand at 5th so you have MDs to U.


    That's a completely fair way of looking at things. I don't really disagree, but some players want to use UMD at an early level and this is a how to.

    There are some items like 1st level scrolls that at 25gp are within the reach of even level 1 characters, some of which can be very helpful. Also wands are often purchased as a party and so 750gp split 4 or 5 ways is pretty easy for a second level party.

    Shadow Lodge

    baggageboy wrote:


    ...
    Most skills don't automatically fail on a natural 1, but UMD does. It also added the wonderfull effect that if you do roll a nat 1 you can't use that item for 24 hours.
    ...

    Use Magic Device does not auto-fail on a roll of 1: The 'Try Again' rule specifically calls out what happens when you roll a 1 and you fail, which indicates you can succeed on a 1 if you have enough bonuses (like any other skill).

    Use Magic Device wrote:
    Try Again: Yes, but if you ever roll a natural 1 while attempting to activate an item and you fail, then you can’t try to activate that item again for 24 hours.


    Good catch. I'll make a note. Though for most low level characters success is unlikely on a Nat 1.


    The interesting thing is that the Pathfinder Savant prestige class seems to assume that a nat 1 is an autofailure.

    Pathfinder Savant wrote:
    Adept Activation (Ex): A Pathfinder savant can always take 10 on Use Magic Device checks, except when activating an item blindly. A Pathfinder savant does not automatically fail a Use Magic Device check if he rolls a natural 1 on the check.

    Also, the unchained rules also assume that a nat 1 is an autofailure.

    Use Magic Device wrote:
    10 Ranks: If you roll a natural 1 when activating an item, you take a –10 penalty on Use Magic Device checks with that item for 24 hours instead of being unable to activate it. This penalty stacks with itself.


    LordKailas wrote:

    The interesting thing is that the Pathfinder Savant prestige class seems to assume that a nat 1 is an autofailure.

    Pathfinder Savant wrote:
    Adept Activation (Ex): A Pathfinder savant can always take 10 on Use Magic Device checks, except when activating an item blindly. A Pathfinder savant does not automatically fail a Use Magic Device check if he rolls a natural 1 on the check.

    Also, the unchained rules also assume that a nat 1 is an autofailure.

    Use Magic Device wrote:
    10 Ranks: If you roll a natural 1 when activating an item, you take a –10 penalty on Use Magic Device checks with that item for 24 hours instead of being unable to activate it. This penalty stacks with itself.

    True. Hmmm I think this is why I thought a nat 1 was an auto fail. I know about the unchained skill unlock. Most of the time people would fail, getting to +19 takes a while, but that isn't what the skill says.


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    Some traits of note:
    Dangerously Curious
    Pragmatic Activator
    Underlying Principles
    Partial Protege
    Adaptive Magic
    Bauble Fascination
    Clever Wordplay
    Relic Hunter

    Spells:
    Guidance 0th
    Tap Inner Beauty 1st
    Eagle's Splendor 2nd

    Magic items:
    Cracked Magenta Prism Ioun Stone 800 gp
    Dust of Emulation 800 gp
    Circlet of Persuasion 4,500 gp
    Wand Key Ring 3,000 gp

    Also, you can have a masterwork tool (50 gp) but this must be GM approved, and may be limited to what it applies to.


    I'll consider adding these, thank you. I don't want to make a full guide, but a few particularly good options like these might be nice to include.


    Some of those are specific to particular races, faiths, or Adventure Paths, so take care to cross-check on AoN.


    Small update, I have finished a list of 1st level scrolls that are good choices. Anyone have thoughts on the list? Any good ones I missed? Any that should be struck?

    I need to go through the 2nd level spells next, but I'm not sure when I'll get to that.


    Obscure poison seems too obscure for 99.9% of PCs. It's really an NPC spell.

    Handy grapnel may be useful occasionally, likewise air bubble. They have slightly different though overlapping uses to monkey fish/touch of the sea.

    Longstrider and nature's paths are worth noting I think. Tears to wine definitely is.


    Air bubble I'm not going to add because the 1 minute duration just makes it too had to use when you can't realiably make the check.

    I'll definitely add nature's paths, handy grapnel and tears to wine.


    Please note that Tears to Wine, while good for Int and Wis skills, is not good for UMD (a Cha skill). Also, the spell is a 2nd level spell for clerics and wizards, the most common source of spells. Tap Inner Beauty will give +2 to Cha skills like UMB, and is a 1st level spell.

    /cevah


    Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

    Isn't there a trait that turns UMD into an Int skill? I think it is "Pragmatic Activator".


    There are two traits that can make UMD int based actually. Pragmatic activator, and clever wordplay.

    Tears to wine is added to the list here not as a way to improve UMD chances though. It's added as a good spell to be casting with a low UMD modifier. That is because of the long duration. Spells with short durations get cut because you can't reliably activate an item with the kind of modifier a low level character has without masive investment.


    I do have a minor style nit with the guide. Unsorted lists. I think it would be somewhat more readable if the lists were sorted. I also think that a quick (a few words) explanation would be nice as to why a given scroll is included. [See spoilered spells for examples.]

    Math nit: You have 1st level scroll as needing a bonus of +11, but your listing for 2nd level scrolls is also +11 (or +12 of CL 4). The 2nd level scroll should be +13 (or +14).

    I am curious what use the Crafter's Fortune scroll is. I don't see it ever being used while adventuring, but in town you should be able to hire a caster for 10 gp (not 25 gp for a scroll). I would love to hear why you want it in the dungeon.

    The Goodberry spell needs fresh berries, not a guarenteed thing to find. You are unlikely to have a friendly caster to automatically use the scroll, and it averages 5 hp. A Cure Light Wounds scroll isa many friendly casters, and averages 5.5 hp. An Infernal Healing scroll has some friendly casters, and averages 10 hp. The only benefit Goodberry has over the others is the ability to split the healing, or to provide nourishment. Spending 25 gp for 4.5 nneals of food is expensive.

    The Obscure Poison spell is another I don't see use for as a PC. Few PCs use poison, and having them be identified is rarely a problem.

    Suggested 1st level::

    Bless might be a better scroll, as it can affect combat giving your party a +1. At low levels, that means a lot.

    Divine Favor gives the caster a +1/+1, for a minute, so is good for combat.

    Enlarge Person is another good combat spell.

    Entangle is great for slowing and debuffing enemies.

    Feather Fall is a trap: It takes you longer to cast than to fall.

    Floating disk is great for carrying loot.

    Gravity Bow and Lead Blades improve your damage in combat.

    Mage Armor and Shield, for when you don't wear armor and need a bit.

    Magic Weapon, for when you can't hit that DR/Magic creature.

    Restoration, Lesser, for healing stat damage.

    Shield of Faith, more AC is always nice.

    Snapdragon Fireworks, great AoE vs. swarms, but get at a higher caster level to be useful.

    True Strike, for that time you absolutely must hit.

    Whispering Lore, for when you need knowledge of the area.

    Wrath, +1/+1 for you.

    Suggested 2nd level::

    Ablative Barrier, some AC and damage mitigation.

    Align Weapon, for when you need to bypass DR/alignment.

    Alter Self, for that perfect disguise.

    Bear's Endurance, Bull's Strength, Cat's Grace, Eagle's Splendor, Fox's Cunning, and Owl's Wisdom: for when you need a stat boost.

    Blur, for help surviving combat.

    Cloud Of Seasickness, to block line of sight and debuff people in it.

    Darkvision, likely a trap, cause if you cannot see the scroll, you cannot UMD it. But good for giving another.

    Find Traps, for when you don't have a trap finder.

    Flame Blade, for the high dex low strength melee type.

    Fog Cloud, for breaking line of sight of those archers.

    Glitterdust, the easy "make 'em visible" if you can land it.

    Haste: Summoner special. Everyone else gets it at 3rd. Still, can be useful.

    Heroism: Bard special. Everyone else gets it at 3rd. Buff your friend.

    Invisibility, for when you don't want anyone seeing you.

    Ironskin, for more AC.

    Knock, for that stubborn door.

    Make Whole, for fixing some broken equipment.

    Mount, Communal, for getting the who party there.

    Protection from Evil, Communal, for when you want to protect the whole party.

    Riversight, for checking out the lay of the land along a river.

    See Invisibility, so you can see that pesky invisible attacker.

    Seek Thoughts, for making interrogations a bit easier.

    Silence, for sneaking past the guards, or getting the drop on them.

    Spider Climb, for getting up to that loot lurcking near the ceiling. Also good for getting a rope to the top, so others can also get up.

    Stone Call, for a good AoE across a large area. Also makes the area difficult terrain.

    Vomit Swarm, cause it's cool.

    Web, for debuffing enemies. Also flammable.

    /cevah

    Edit: added spoilers to reduce the wall of text.


    Thank you for the input and especially for the catch of my math error. I'll update soon as I get the chance.


    I think you have misunderstood the UMD rules a bit.
    The +2 for previously activating a magic item only applies to Activate Blindly (DC 25), and not all scrolls or wands.
    Likewise, mishaps, only happen when you fail to activate blindly.
    Scroll mishaps do not occur with UMD. They occur when you try to cast a scroll of the correct type (arcane/divine), on the class list, and with sufficient casting stat, yet don't have sufficient casting level and fail the CL check.

    An example of Activate Blindly is getting a Flying Carpet to work without the correct command word. First time the DC is 25. After doing it once, the DC is 23. If your initial try is a 15 or less, then you get a mishap for the carpet. GM evil occurs now.

    The way to get such command words is by making a DC [15 + Item CL] Spellcraft check with Detect Magic or Identify. Usually some caster in the party should be able to do this.

    Note that Staves also have a flat DC 20 like Wands. They often have useful spells at higher CL (min is 8). Refilling them is also an option.

    The cracked Ioun Stone: Pink and Green Sphere costs 200 gp, and grants you a +1 bonus on one Charisma-based skill [picked when made]. Stacks with everything. [Maybe not with itself.]

    The cracked Ioun Stone: Magenta Prism costs 800 gp, and grants you a +2 competence bonus on checks with any one skill, chosen daily.

    EDIT: Found a typo. Your sample rogue mentions Skil Focus(UDM) rather than Skil Focus(UMD).

    EDIT 2: Rogue cannot hurt himself with a wand. Nor does he care what list it is on. He never has to roll a casting stat roll for a wand. It is a flat DC 20. The crif fail of trying the scroll does nothing, since the UMD does not mishap a scroll.

    /cevah


    I'll try to find some time to go over all of this and make updates. Some stuff I'll want to confirm over on the rules forum so that it can all be correct for sure. Thanks cevah.


    Your guide has been added by Broken Zenith to the Guide to the Guides.

    /cevah


    I saw! It was very gratifying to see that. Now I need to take the time to update the guide for the specifics with scrolls and a few other tweaks.


    Updated the text to be in line with my new better understanding of the rules. Still need to impliment some of the suggestions for items from cevah.

    I'd like to add a list of items that would be good for the low level character to "activate blindly" as well. Any thoughts on such items? Let's try to stay under 750gp for single use items and under 5000gp for items with indefinite use items.


    Guide wrote:
    Let's assume you have an ability bonus of 3 (cha, or not if you use an ability to switch it,) UMD is a class skill, and you put a single rank into the skill (duh). That by itself gets you to +7. Throw in a trait bonus and feat and +11 is easy at first level.

    I get the +7, but no trait I know of will give +4 on UMD. Most give +1 and Class skill, which you already included.

    Guide wrote:
    Skill focus UDM (+3)

    Use Device Magic? Oops.

    Guide wrote:

    Wands

    (Bonus of at least +10, +8 if you’ve used it before)

    If you allow the +2 from Activate Blindly to aply to a wand, you open the use of activate blindly for scrolls. This makes any scroll of CL 6 or higher easier to use by activating blindly for a flat 25 rather than the scrolls normal 20+CL (and possible 2nd DC for casting stat). I don't think this is RAI, and as a GM would not allow this. I would place the +2 as something to check before assuming for any GM. I.e. expect table variation.

    /cevah


    Man Cevah, I really need to put in a note acknoledging your help. Thank you for taking so much time looking at this. I'll make some updates soon as I get the chance.


    Well, as I was aiming to cast Simulacrum from a scroll, I needed high UMD. So I have spent some time thinking on it. Here are some things I noted:

    Circlet of Persuasion: +3 Competance of Cha skills
    Headband +2/+4/+6 Cha: +1/+2/+3 Cha mod
    Tap Inner Beauty: +2 Insight Charisma ability & skill checks
    Skill Focus(UMD): +3/+6 to UMD
    Magical Aptitude: +2/+4 to Spellcraft and UMD
    Divine Deception: +5 to UMD w/divine spell-trigger or spell completion items or to emulate a divine class feature.
    Artifact Hunter: +2/+4 to UMD emulating a class feature, ability score, race, or alignment. 1/day: Take 15, 2/day at 10th level.

    /cevah


    Your guide mentions using both Dangerously Curious and Pragmatic Activator for the sample Rogue build. That isn't allowed, because both are Magic Traits. You could have both Dangerously Curious and Clever Wordplay (UMD), since the latter is a Social Trait -- this goes against what seems to me to be the spirit of Clever Wordplay, but Rules As Written, it works.


    UnArcaneElection wrote:

    Your guide mentions using both Dangerously Curious and Pragmatic Activator for the sample Rogue build. That isn't allowed, because both are Magic Traits. You could have both Dangerously Curious and Clever Wordplay (UMD), since the latter is a Social Trait -- this goes against what seems to me to be the spirit of Clever Wordplay, but Rules As Written, it works.

    I will fix that! Thank you for the comment. While I understand not liking cleaver wordplay as a way to get UMD based off of int, there are very few methods to do so and very few traits that give UMD as a class skill. I'm not going to turn my nose up at it. No offense.

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