Do we need a +item bonus to spell attack rolls?


Rules Discussion


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So looking at the monster builder document, monster AC scales faster than saves (2 or 3 point difference).

This mostly works out since weapons get a +item bonus, while spells do not.

But there are a few spells that target AC. Like ray of frost and polar ray. Meaning that fall -2/3 behind their save counterpart.

So should there be a +item bonus to spell attacks?


It's easier for you to get a bonus to attack or them to get a penalty to AC, and I think much of teamwork will revolve around these sort of actions already since they benefit most PCs, i.e. making foes flat-footed.

There's also the fact that the playtest had them. So they were intentionally created then intentionally excised. I'd attribute this to their "must-have" status and PF2's attempts to minimize those. The bonuses are baked into full casters (other than Warpriest) going to Legendary while only Fighters do among martials. Even the caster MCDs take you to Master (and the martial routes only go up to Expert), so I think Paizo's savvy to this topic.


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Whether or not a spell attack roll falls behind a spell save depends entirely on how good the opponent's save is.

Saying the attack roll is always -2/3 behind isn't true unless you're always targeting a weak save.

Item bonuses only to spell attack rolls would skew the balance and mean save-inflicting spells would almost always be worse.

Castilliano wrote:
The bonuses are baked into full casters (other than Warpriest) going to Legendary while only Fighters do among martials.

This isn't exactly true either though. While full casters do eventually hit legendary in spells, that's only at level 19.

Casters are trained from 1-6, expert 7-14, master from 15-18 and legendary from 19 and on.

Contrast with standard martial proficiencies getting expert at 5 and master at 13 and spellcasters are behind martials from 5-6 and 13-14 and otherwise only ever on par until 19.

And of course, since casters don't get item bonuses, on par doesn't actually mean on par. A bard's only ever going to have the same to-hit as a Barbarian from 1-3.


Having exact parity in attack bonus isn't necessary for balance purposes.

This is true because spell casters have a wider range of options for what kind of effects they can generate than classes that focus on weapon usage do. And even in the arena of laying hurt onto the bad guys, spells still don't need the same accuracy when targeting AC because those spells are either a) cantrips or focus spells you're using because your bigger flashier spells are already used up or don't apply to this situation, or b) big flashy spells themselves (though if my search is correct, only acid splash and disintegrate are non-cantrip non-focus spells that say "make a spell attack" in the description)


Squiggit wrote:

Whether or not a spell attack roll falls behind a spell save depends entirely on how good the opponent's save is.

Saying the attack roll is always -2/3 behind isn't true unless you're always targeting a weak save.

Item bonuses only to spell attack rolls would skew the balance and mean save-inflicting spells would almost always be worse.

Castilliano wrote:
The bonuses are baked into full casters (other than Warpriest) going to Legendary while only Fighters do among martials.

This isn't exactly true either though. While full casters do eventually hit legendary in spells, that's only at level 19.

Casters are trained from 1-6, expert 7-14, master from 15-18 and legendary from 19 and on.

Contrast with standard martial proficiencies getting expert at 5 and master at 13 and spellcasters are behind martials from 5-6 and 13-14 and otherwise only ever on par until 19.

And of course, since casters don't get item bonuses, on par doesn't actually mean on par. A bard's only ever going to have the same to-hit as a Barbarian from 1-3.

I hadn't intended to compare martial attacks to caster attacks (since that would require profound spell vs. weapon analysis too!), but rather that Paizo pushed upward to Legendary w/ casters so that the items wouldn't be necessary in the casters' paradigm.

I think the comparison Mellored was focusing on was spell attacks vs. AC compared to spell DC vs. Saves. And in the casters' paradigm, the spells vs. Saves seem to have an advantage. (This also assumes both types of spells are built to do comparative effects, but let's set that aside.) And they do, strictly speaking or in a "white room". But I think when one factors in teamwork or stealth for flat-footed, Bard songs, Heroism, and so forth, the numbers even out. At least the success numbers do. Many Save spells do damage on a failure too, while those vs. AC traditionally just miss.

Spells vs. Saves
-same bonus vs. a lower defense
-often has effects on failure

Spells vs. AC
-same bonus vs. higher defense, but more likely to gain bonuses or for the enemy to get penalized, and there's True Strike (et al).
-usually zero effects on failure

I feel the effects on a failure is the bigger imbalance, though I suspect the devs crunched the range of numbers so averages work out.

ETA: If nobledrake is right w/ Disintegrate (which also has a save) and I believe he means Acid Arrow being the only slot-using spells, then I guess there is some comparison. Funnily enough, Flaming Sphere at the same level as Acid Arrow does zero damage on a successful save.


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Quote:
I hadn't intended to compare martial attacks to caster attacks (since that would require profound spell vs. weapon analysis too!), but rather that Paizo pushed upward to Legendary w/ casters so that the items wouldn't be necessary in the casters' paradigm.

That's fair, my point is less caster vs martial and more that, for the purposes of system math, they're never really 'ahead' until the very end of the level curve and actually advance slightly more slowly than other classes.


Squiggit wrote:

Whether or not a spell attack roll falls behind a spell save depends entirely on how good the opponent's save is.

Saying the attack roll is always -2/3 behind isn't true unless you're always targeting a weak save.

I am comparing moderate AC vs moderate save.

And there is also polar ray, tangled creepers, chilling darkness, and spiritual weapon as slot attack spells. Possibly more.

Not enough to make a +item attack spell wand a must have. Though maybe making the attack spells a bit more powerful will also work.

But a fair point about true strike. But you can also give penalties to other saves with clumsy or what not.


Keep in mind that the effects when a caster succeeds on an attack roll are often a fair bit different than when a martial succeeds on an attack roll (they tend to do damage types to which resistances and immunities are a fair bit rarer, that commonly target weaknesses, and can often hit multiple targets or inflict status effects) so it makes sense for them to be balanced a bit differently to martials.

Also, casters are a lot less equipment focused, so in that case it really makes sense that the fighter cares more about having a +1 sword than the sorcerer who shoots lightning from her fingertips cares about having such a thing (also, casters would usually much rather have a wand that does metamagic or has a bunch of spells on it than a wand that gives +1 to hit)


Mellored wrote:
I am comparing moderate AC vs moderate save.

Looking at the table, a level 21 monster (since you said it was a scaling issue might as well look at the top) has a moderate AC of 45 and a middle save of 35.

A level 20 spellcaster with legendary proficiency hits the monster on a 10, 55% of the time. The monster saves on a 10, 55% of the time.

That's effectively +2, not -2.

Obviously save granting spells have failure effects that make them more attractive, but that's another issue and either way saying the attack roll is 'behind' is clearly not right at all.


Squiggit wrote:
Mellored wrote:
I am comparing moderate AC vs moderate save.
Looking at the table, a level 21 monster (since you said it was a scaling issue might as well look at the top) has a moderate AC of 45 and a middle save of 35.

Compare that to level 1.

Quote:
A level 20 spellcaster with legendary proficiency hits the monster on a 10, 55% of the time. The monster saves on a 10, 55% of the time.

Fair point.

But again, look at how it chances from level 1.


Yes. They eliminated touch AC, so casters should get the same bonus to their attacks as weapon users since they now attack the same AC.


Deriven Firelion wrote:
Yes. They eliminated touch AC, so casters should get the same bonus to their attacks as weapon users since they now attack the same AC.

The only reason touch AC was a thing was because casters had to raise a second stat which was always inferior to their casting stat. Casters now roll attacks with their casting stat + proficiency, which is +2 versus most martials.

The problem I find is that the progression is kinda wonky on that, so it takes a while for that to balance out. In particular, levels 13-14, where martials have master, but casters are still on expert proficiency. The curve puts caster spell attack rolls behind for a while simply due to the fact that they're running off casting stat proficiency, but ultimately scales to be higher.

Sovereign Court

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I think the easiest fix, if you really felt it needed one, would be to allow the Property Runes on staves to be added to the spellcaster's own spell attack rolls.


I think they are fine ( the whole ruleset is, to be honest ).


Samurai wrote:
I think the easiest fix, if you really felt it needed one, would be to allow the Property Runes on staves to be added to the spellcaster's own spell attack rolls.

If I thought it needed fixing (I don't yet) this would be my solution as well.


I understand why this feels true when looking at high level casters, but how many high level attack spells is a caster making in a day, that won’t be boosted by true strike? Maybe some folks don’t love it, but I think casters are designed to have spectacular effects a limited amount of time per day. Having generally the same accuracy as martials would probably blunt that effect. That is also why I believe most spells and cantrips have more interesting effects on critical effects.

Edit: if I was going to house rule some way for wizards to use their staff’s bonus to spell attacks, I’d probably make it cost 1 action to activate.


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I think it's unfair to force a caster to rely on true strike. I mean, particularly for Divine and Primal casters, that may be tough :-P. I think it also warrants mention that martials are a lot more likely to get the benefits of flanking than are casters (though casters obviously can in this edition). I haven't done enough play to see how this pans out, but I do have a spell attack blaster planned, and it'll be interesting to see if the lag is noticeable.


tivadar27 wrote:
I think it's unfair to force a caster to rely on true strike.

Caster's don't need to rely on true strike.

However, this issue - spell attack modifiers not being the same as weapon attack modifiers - is a case where "fair" and "equal" are not the same thing.

The attack bonuses are not equal because getting an item bonus to spell attacks isn't a thing (yet, at least). They are fair, though, because of all the other factors that are in play - it'd only be fair for all manner of attacks to have the same to-hit roll modifiers if the results of a successful attack were also all the same.


Personally, I like the idea. If a GM prefers tepid casters as they are currently, they can just make said items unavailable or uncommon.

To say such items are "must have" as a bad thing is misleading, the same is true of martials and magic weapons, or all characters and magic armor/AC boosting items. This is just how the system math works, and casters are gimped by it across the board.

This balances itself out in much the same way, as casters would have to invest both wealth and investiture in said items. Probably a hand or two too.

I'm wondering if an item to boost save DC would also be appropriate (maybe the same item). Especially at high levels monsters have a hilariously easy time succeeding (and critically succeeding) saving throws, often with no real weak saving throw to speak of. In my experience critical failure is a nat 1 pretty much from 1st-20th level, unless facing severely under level enemies which martials could mop up without wasting a spell slot. Whereas martials tend to crit easily and often.


thenobledrake wrote:
tivadar27 wrote:
I think it's unfair to force a caster to rely on true strike.

Caster's don't need to rely on true strike.

However, this issue - spell attack modifiers not being the same as weapon attack modifiers - is a case where "fair" and "equal" are not the same thing.

The attack bonuses are not equal because getting an item bonus to spell attacks isn't a thing (yet, at least). They are fair, though, because of all the other factors that are in play - it'd only be fair for all manner of attacks to have the same to-hit roll modifiers if the results of a successful attack were also all the same.

I was referencing Unicorne's post, which was asking how many high level attacks you'd make without true strike...

You're also taking my post out of context a bit. I was referencing fair in the context of requiring true strike, not in the context of whether the bonuses for attacks should be the same. As I said, it's hard to say currently.

The problem, potentially, is that a miss is still no effect with a spell attack roll, whereas spells with saves at least get *something* on a miss. Going the other way, spell attacks will do more damage than melee attacks, no doubt (minus cantrips...), but at the same time, they also require two actions instead of one. I think we need more play with these to really make a determination whether item bonuses to hit with spells are "necessary". Either way, I *don't* believe that bonus should apply to save DCs (though that's not really being discussed here...).


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Asking "how many high level attack spells is a caster making in a day, that won’t be boosted by true strike?" isn't about true strike being forced to rely on true strike though - it's about a character build that is wanting to land spell attack rolls being able to easily utilize true strike.

Artofregicide wrote:
This is just how the system math works, and casters are gimped by it across the board

That's a bold claim that I'd love to see some evidence for, because not getting item bonuses to spell attack rolls isn't it.


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If the comparison is to be between Spell Attack and Spell DC, you have to keep in mind that:

You can double debuff AC (both flat footed and status penalty) while you can only single debuff Saves (only status penalties)

And that

You can buff your attack roll but not your spell DC (true strike, heroism, bless, inspire, etc)

That already brings attack rolls to be a usually better option when comparing moderate AC to moderate Saves.

If it also had a +item bonus on top of it, the difference would grow even further, maybe even to the point if Attack roll being better than even targeting weak saves.


Spell attack rolls are lower b/c on a successful hit you do so much more damage. The chance is low b/c the payoff is high. Polar Ray does 10d8 and causes target to be drained 2. A Fighter is getting at best 3d8+1d6 (flaming etc rune) + 5 Str? It seems like a 10% reduction is chance to hit is a fair trade off for 45 average damage instead of 22, oh and a debuff.

Spell attack rolls are lower because on a success they hit that much harder.


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Polar Ray is 2 actions and 8th lv spell, so at most you could do it like 4 times.

Your Fighter with at base using that weapon would deal 6d8 +10 +2d6 using the same number of action, spending no resources, and having better hp, defense, and to-hit (which also means more crits). Also funny how you didnt include weapon Specialization which adds an extra +8, which makes it: 6d8+26+2d6.


Using a staff for the item bonus would be fine. Maybe even handwraps.

Kelseus wrote:

Spell attack rolls are lower b/c on a successful hit you do so much more damage. The chance is low b/c the payoff is high. Polar Ray does 10d8 and causes target to be drained 2. A Fighter is getting at best 3d8+1d6 (flaming etc rune) + 5 Str? It seems like a 10% reduction is chance to hit is a fair trade off for 45 average damage instead of 22, oh and a debuff.

Spell attack rolls are lower because on a success they hit that much harder.

it's not about materials vs casters. (Not this thread anyways).

It's about AC spells vs save spells.

Polar ray vs finger of death. Or produce flames vs chill touch. At high level, one of those us -2/3 to the other.

I am not suggesting a bonus to saves spells.


Temperans wrote:

Polar Ray is 2 actions and 8th lv spell, so at most you could do it like 4 times.

Your Fighter with at base using that weapon would deal 6d8 +10 +2d6 using the same number of action, spending no resources, and having better hp, defense, and to-hit (which also means more crits). Also funny how you didnt include weapon Specialization which adds an extra +8, which makes it: 6d8+26+2d6.

The second swing of the sword is at -5. One roll at full and one at -5 is about the same as one at -2.


Mellored wrote:

Using a staff for the item bonus would be fine. Maybe even handwraps.

Kelseus wrote:

Spell attack rolls are lower b/c on a successful hit you do so much more damage. The chance is low b/c the payoff is high. Polar Ray does 10d8 and causes target to be drained 2. A Fighter is getting at best 3d8+1d6 (flaming etc rune) + 5 Str? It seems like a 10% reduction is chance to hit is a fair trade off for 45 average damage instead of 22, oh and a debuff.

Spell attack rolls are lower because on a success they hit that much harder.

it's not about materials vs casters. (Not this thread anyways).

It's about AC spells vs save spells.

Polar ray vs finger of death. Or produce flames vs chill touch. At high level, one of those us -2/3 to the other.

I am not suggesting a bonus to saves spells.

Yes, my point is that you don't need an item bonus b/c if you hit it hits like a ton of bricks.


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Kelseus wrote:

The chance is low b/c the payoff is high. Polar Ray does 10d8 and causes target to be drained 2. A Fighter is getting at best 3d8+1d6 (flaming etc rune) + 5 Str? It seems like a 10% reduction is chance to hit is a fair trade off for 45 average damage instead of 22, oh and a debuff.

Spell attack rolls are lower because on a success they hit that much harder.

The problem with this assertion is that it neglects that Spells are a limited resource and that Polar Ray is two actions, not one.

It's also not a 10% reduction if we're comparing it to the Fighter. Before 19, it's -5, so 25%. Even after 19 it's -3 (and the Fighter will have a fourth weapon dice).

So it's not "a lower chance to hit for way more damage", it's a lower chance to hit for about the same damage up to a daily limit. That daily limit makes the accuracy problems even more significant, not less.

Now, if you want to argue that's okay, that's one thing, but the characterization that the spell is less reliable because it does so much damage isn't an accurate one.


Mellored wrote:

Using a staff for the item bonus would be fine. Maybe even handwraps.

Kelseus wrote:

Spell attack rolls are lower b/c on a successful hit you do so much more damage. The chance is low b/c the payoff is high. Polar Ray does 10d8 and causes target to be drained 2. A Fighter is getting at best 3d8+1d6 (flaming etc rune) + 5 Str? It seems like a 10% reduction is chance to hit is a fair trade off for 45 average damage instead of 22, oh and a debuff.

Spell attack rolls are lower because on a success they hit that much harder.

it's not about materials vs casters. (Not this thread anyways).

It's about AC spells vs save spells.

Polar ray vs finger of death. Or produce flames vs chill touch. At high level, one of those us -2/3 to the other.

I am not suggesting a bonus to saves spells.

Yet you keep ignoring that there are more and much better ways to increase Spell attack success rate than saving throw ones.

If you were to add item bonuses on top of that you may as well delete saving throw spells since they would be severely subpar compared to spell attack ones.


Increases to spell attack that are not item bonuses also affect regular attacks. So for this argument, "spell attacks is lower than regular attacks" its a net wash.


Mellored wrote:


But again, look at how it chances from level 1.

Right, but that shows spell attacks going from being significantly ahead to only slightly ahead, not 'falling behind'.

Temperans wrote:
Increases to spell attack that are not item bonuses also affect regular attacks. So for this argument, "spell attacks is lower than regular attacks" its a net wash.

Yeah, but it's relevant for comparing spell attacks to spell save rates.


shroudb wrote:

You can buff your attack roll but not your spell DC (true strike, heroism, bless, inspire, etc)

That already brings attack rolls to be a usually better option when comparing moderate AC to moderate Saves.

If it also had a +item bonus on top of it, the difference would grow even further, maybe even to the point if Attack roll being better than even targeting weak saves.

True strike is arcane and divine. But is for 1 attack. Great for polar ray, but kind of a waste for produce flame.

Heroism is divine and occult. But to get the +3 you need to cast it at 9th level. That seems a bit extreme.

Bless, inspire, and guidance are suck at +1... doesn't really keep you on par.

I see nothing that is primal.... though I don't see any primal spell attacks either... So i guess that doesn't matter.

I guess it depends on how easy flat-footed becomes.


Squiggit wrote:
Mellored wrote:


But again, look at how it chances from level 1.
Right, but that shows spell attacks going from being significantly ahead to only slightly ahead, not 'falling behind'.

Yea, but at level 1, you choose between +3 to hit, or 1/2 damage on a miss. Seems like a decent trade-off.

At level 20, you choose between +0, or half damage on a miss.


Flat-footed is an easy condition to apply, if the party has taken the abilities for it that is.

AC is much like an alternate Saving Throw. I went through a dozen+ monsters and the highest Save is consistently the hardest target, often by a lot (and it's most often Fortitude). The lowest Save was consistently the easiest, at times also by a lot.
Creatures with notoriously high ACs might manage a tie w/ their best Save while those with low ACs (other than oozes!) might get a tie with their lowest Save. Even oozes had Reflex Saves nearly as poor as their AC (after the -10 adjustment for base).

The ACs did seem to ramp up relative to the middle Saves, but a party's ability to apply flat-footed or gain spell buffs should too. I'm unsure the balance of whether AC penalty conditions or Save penalty conditions are harder to apply, though perhaps we should break it down into all four separately. Ex. Isn't easier to apply Clumsy than Drained?

I have definitely been dissuaded from attacking Fort saves w/ my primary choices. :)


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Castilliano wrote:
Flat-footed is an easy condition to apply, if the party has taken the abilities for it that is.

There are, last I counted, forty three ways to make someone flat footed. That includes Flanking.

(I literally made the joke once that there were 42 ways to do it, picking both an arbitrarily large number, as well as being recognizable as the answer to everything, and then counted them up later; off by 1).

Sovereign Court

How about this idea: Staff of Arcane Power, Staff of Divine Power, Staff of Primal Power, and Staff of Occult Power. These staves have no inherent spells within them, they are instead attuned to and can bolster a specific tradition of magic. By spending a charge from the staff, you may add it's bonus to you attack rolls or spell DC when casting your own spells for 1 spell per charge. They can come in +1, +2, and +3 varieties. You could also create wands with the same ability, usable once per day unless you push it and chance destroying the wand by trying to use it a second time.


The Staff of Divination spamming True Strike is the item to enhance spell attack rolls.


Okay, first off, again, "requiring" true strike in this equation isn't fair to the Druid or Cleric blasters out there. Yes, they can get it with some work, but we shouldn't focus builds around it.

I'm looking at the average bestiary stats and it seems like average AC generally tracks with "medium" save. Even without additional bonuses, this means that you're just as good going for a save spell vs AC if you don't know anything about the creature.

Yes, casters are less likely to hit due to item bonuses than martials, but I'd agree that's not a totally valid comparison, as higher-level spells, even at two actions, are going to do a lot more damage than a single attack. If you compare two attacks, then you need to factor in the average penalty for swinging twice, or -2 or so. At that point, item bonuses cancel out for the most part.

Once again, I do think we need more play to see how these work in reality, but at least after looking at the base numbers, it sounds pretty reasonable to me.


The debuffs people mention also work for people striking with weapons so I don't see how you can declare "oh but if you debuff your spell attack will be better."

You are discounting that those conditions make the martial attacks that much more deadly, and that martial attackers can impose quite a few of them with single actions. Anything that can apply to BOTH Spell Attacks and Physical ones should be discounted. **INCLUDING TRUE STRIKE** as this isn't entirely a pure caster thing, gishes can pick this up and make martial attacks that much more accurate.

Compare a 2 action spell with a 1 action attack with the same proficiency, both do null damage if they miss. But one has the ability to keep up with the increasing accuracy requirements, because higher tier monsters DO account for item bonus. The spells can not obtain these, making them 5-15% less accurate despite having much more investment in terms of action points.


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BlessedHeretic wrote:
The debuffs people mention also work for people striking with weapons so I don't see how you can declare "oh but if you debuff your spell attack will be better."

The comparison for that line of discussion was to spells that offer saves.

It's a little hard to follow because there's two lines of discussion in this thread: One comparing attack based spells to save based spells and another comparing spells to martial attacks.


tivadar27 wrote:

Okay, first off, again, "requiring" true strike in this equation isn't fair to the Druid or Cleric blasters out there. Yes, they can get it with some work, but we shouldn't focus builds around it.

I'm looking at the average bestiary stats and it seems like average AC generally tracks with "medium" save. Even without additional bonuses, this means that you're just as good going for a save spell vs AC if you don't know anything about the creature.

Yes, casters are less likely to hit due to item bonuses than martials, but I'd agree that's not a totally valid comparison, as higher-level spells, even at two actions, are going to do a lot more damage than a single attack. If you compare two attacks, then you need to factor in the average penalty for swinging twice, or -2 or so. At that point, item bonuses cancel out for the most part.

Once again, I do think we need more play to see how these work in reality, but at least after looking at the base numbers, it sounds pretty reasonable to me.

There was a section of a 4chan thread that a friend showed me that more or less discussed how effectively a player could guess the worst save of a creature just from their description and basic pop culture knowledge. While the discussion was less than scientifically rigorous, it seems like peoples' best guess as to what is the weakest save will often be correct.

That is neat but I still feel like monster saves should be lower, especially considering how it is relatively harder to improve your chances of your spell succeeding vs. making an attack succeed.


tivadar27 wrote:
Okay, first off, again, "requiring" true strike in this equation isn't fair to the Druid or Cleric blasters out there. Yes, they can get it with some work, but we shouldn't focus builds around it.

There does not appear to be any primal spell attacks.

Though there may be in the future.


So at the moment, I am thinking we do need an bonus, but probably not a +3.

Maybe a +1 at level 10, and +2 at level 20.


Mellored wrote:
tivadar27 wrote:
Okay, first off, again, "requiring" true strike in this equation isn't fair to the Druid or Cleric blasters out there. Yes, they can get it with some work, but we shouldn't focus builds around it.

There does not appear to be any primal spell attacks.

Though there may be in the future.

Cantrips.


Saying you could use true strike on a weapon is true, but not as relevant, because the point of true strike is that you use it on your highest level attack spells that you need to hit, not every attack roll. The casters general accuracy with cantrips sitting around 50/50 percent is fine as long as the can make their big spells matter. It is a different playstyle.

Coincidentally, I don’t think we’ve seen the caster designed to be the all day blasted yet. I think it will be what they do with the magus, and that would be where I guess we see item bonuses to spell attack rolls.


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.... Magus is not an all day blaster. Melee magus is a nova fighter, spending a lot to deal a ton of damage. Ranged Magus is a full class version of Arcane Archer focusing on single target burst damage (until late) as opposed to AoE effects.

Not to mention they are suppose to deliver there spell through a martial attack. Which is bypassing the problem.

Also I just realized, it's currently the inverse. 1e Magus would sacrifice accuracy for more damage and higher crit chance. 2e Magus (if copied directly) would trade inaccuracy for higher too hit, bonus damage, and better crit chance.

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