Spell Attack Flanking


Rules Discussion

Grand Archive

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So the recent Errata (3) to the CRB added the following

Paizo FAQ wrote:
Page 476: Flanking was ambiguous on what happened if you made a ranged attack while within reach of a foe you are flanking. To make it clear that only melee attacks benefit from flanking, change the second sentence to read "A creature is flat-footed (taking a –2 circumstance penalty to AC) to melee attacks from creatures that are flanking it."

First, I have to say I'm not a fan of this errata as getting shot from behind seems just as hard to deal with as being stabbed, but regardless, this isn't what the post is about.

The issue is "Melee Spell Attacks". More specifically, can you flank with such an attack? As it stands, I'd say this errata actually points to no.

Why? Because a Melee Spell Attack is never defined as a melee attack. In fact, it is defined almost explicitly as not being a melee or ranged attack at all. Take the following text from the CRB

Core Rulebook pg. 446 2.0 wrote:
When you use a Strike action or make a spell attack, you attempt a check called an attack roll. Attack rolls take a variety of forms and are often highly variable based on the weapon you are using for the attack, but there are three main types: melee attack rolls, ranged attack rolls, and spell attack rolls. Spell attack rolls work a little bit differently, so they are explained separately on the next page.

There is a whole lot of information on that page, but none of it once touches on "melee" or "ranged"; simply how to calculate a spell attack roll and that it targets AC.

The CRB seems to suggest that a spell attack roll is never a ranged nor a melee attack. This would mean that it wouldn't benefit from flanking, even if it was something like Shocking Grasp. The only spell that seems like it might work is Produce Flame since it says "melee attack" specifically. I feel like this means that either Produce Flame or the entry on spell attack rolls is inaccurate. Either we need an errata on Produce Flame to say "melee spell attack roll" and not benefit from flanking or we need the text for spell attack rolls to state that a melee spell attack is still a melee attack for purposes such as flanking.


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

A melee attack is a melee attack by definition. It's literally in the name. The answer is clearly yes, pending further errata.


I hadn't noticed that about produce flame. It should probably be worded as a melee spell attack and not a melee attack. But I agree that spell attacks are, by raw now unfortunately, unable to benefit from flanking even melee spell attacks.


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Call it a houserule if you want, but I wouldn't run it that way. Touch range spells that have saves don't benefit from flanking, but spell attack spells that have to be done at touch range should. I think they all list Melee Spell Attack (aside from possibly Produce Flame). And that wording is close enough for me.


Actually, you probably can still flank with melee spell attacks. I could find one bit of precedence with swashbucklers "impossible repost". Describes that it works with "ranged attacks" and then lists a spell attack as eligible. So similar rulings for melee attacks should work with melee spell attacks as well.

Grand Archive

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Squiggit wrote:
A melee attack is a melee attack by definition. It's literally in the name. The answer is clearly yes, pending further errata.

I agree that melee spell attacks should benefit from flanking, but I think it's now been made overly ambiguous with the new change. Personally, I'm planning on ignoring every part of the errata at my tables but especially for melee spell attacks.


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I don’t understand what is ambiguous. The only reason for Produce Flame to even have a melee option is to benefit from things like flanking.

Grand Archive

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GM OfAnything wrote:
I don’t understand what is ambiguous. The only reason for Produce Flame to even have a melee option is to benefit from things like flanking.

The ambiguous part is "Is a melee spell attack roll a melee attack". Based on current wording of the CRB, it looks like it flat out says no. This means Shocking Grasp can't benefit from flanking, but Produce Flame can because it specifically calls out "melee attack".


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NovelEnigma wrote:
So the recent Errata (3) to the CRB added the following
Paizo FAQ wrote:
Page 476: Flanking was ambiguous on what happened if you made a ranged attack while within reach of a foe you are flanking. To make it clear that only melee attacks benefit from flanking, change the second sentence to read "A creature is flat-footed (taking a –2 circumstance penalty to AC) to melee attacks from creatures that are flanking it."

First, I have to say I'm not a fan of this errata as getting shot from behind seems just as hard to deal with as being stabbed, but regardless, this isn't what the post is about.

The issue is "Melee Spell Attacks". More specifically, can you flank with such an attack? As it stands, I'd say this errata actually points to no.

Why? Because a Melee Spell Attack is never defined as a melee attack. In fact, it is defined almost explicitly as not being a melee or ranged attack at all. Take the following text from the CRB

Core Rulebook pg. 446 2.0 wrote:
When you use a Strike action or make a spell attack, you attempt a check called an attack roll. Attack rolls take a variety of forms and are often highly variable based on the weapon you are using for the attack, but there are three main types: melee attack rolls, ranged attack rolls, and spell attack rolls. Spell attack rolls work a little bit differently, so they are explained separately on the next page.

There is a whole lot of information on that page, but none of it once touches on "melee" or "ranged"; simply how to calculate a spell attack roll and that it targets AC.

The CRB seems to suggest that a spell attack roll is never a ranged nor a melee attack. This would mean that it wouldn't benefit from flanking, even if it was something like Shocking Grasp. The only spell that seems like it might work is Produce Flame since it says "melee attack" specifically. I feel like this means that either Produce Flame or the entry on spell attack rolls is inaccurate. Either we need an errata on Produce Flame to...

I disagree. This text is about the rolls it's not directly related about if your attack is really a melee or range in order to make the opponent flat-footed to the char. It's just to explain that melee attack rolls uses uses the melee formula, ranged attack rolls used ranged formula and spells attack rolls have their own formula depending from spell. That's they why spell attacks are explained separately.

So spells like Produce Flame, Gouging Claw and Shocking Grasp is able to benefit from flaking rules.

Grand Archive

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YuriP wrote:
NovelEnigma wrote:
So the recent Errata (3) to the CRB added the following
Paizo FAQ wrote:
Page 476: Flanking was ambiguous on what happened if you made a ranged attack while within reach of a foe you are flanking. To make it clear that only melee attacks benefit from flanking, change the second sentence to read "A creature is flat-footed (taking a –2 circumstance penalty to AC) to melee attacks from creatures that are flanking it."

First, I have to say I'm not a fan of this errata as getting shot from behind seems just as hard to deal with as being stabbed, but regardless, this isn't what the post is about.

The issue is "Melee Spell Attacks". More specifically, can you flank with such an attack? As it stands, I'd say this errata actually points to no.

Why? Because a Melee Spell Attack is never defined as a melee attack. In fact, it is defined almost explicitly as not being a melee or ranged attack at all. Take the following text from the CRB

Core Rulebook pg. 446 2.0 wrote:
When you use a Strike action or make a spell attack, you attempt a check called an attack roll. Attack rolls take a variety of forms and are often highly variable based on the weapon you are using for the attack, but there are three main types: melee attack rolls, ranged attack rolls, and spell attack rolls. Spell attack rolls work a little bit differently, so they are explained separately on the next page.

There is a whole lot of information on that page, but none of it once touches on "melee" or "ranged"; simply how to calculate a spell attack roll and that it targets AC.

The CRB seems to suggest that a spell attack roll is never a ranged nor a melee attack. This would mean that it wouldn't benefit from flanking, even if it was something like Shocking Grasp. The only spell that seems like it might work is Produce Flame since it says "melee attack" specifically. I feel like this means that either Produce Flame or the entry on spell attack rolls is inaccurate. Either we need

...

The issue with this extrapolation is that, as far as I can tell, this is the only time that melee, ranged, and spell attack rolls are defined at all.

While I agree that melee spell attack rolls are indeed melee attacks, I worry that not all will see it this way. It was much simpler when flanking simply applied to all attacks.


I agree. But I believe that they made this change to do some MAD penalties. This is to prevent that bows becomes too good weapons that allows to use DEX for everything and also to make some spells more useful. This also prevents rogues to easily do precision damage due flanking with bows.


NovelEnigma wrote:


Why? Because a Melee Spell Attack is never defined as a melee attack. In fact, it is defined almost explicitly as not being a melee or ranged attack at all. Take the following text from the CRB
Core Rulebook pg. 446 2.0 wrote:
When you use a Strike action or make a spell attack, you attempt a check called an attack roll. Attack rolls take a variety of forms and are often highly variable based on the weapon you are using for the attack, but there are three main types: melee attack rolls, ranged attack rolls, and spell attack rolls. Spell attack rolls work a little bit differently, so they are explained separately on the next page.
.

Yep. A Melee Spell Attack Roll is not defined in the CRB. Spell Attack Rolls are a separate thing from Attack Rolls. Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.

So you are totally right. But as we actually want to play the game, we have to plug some gaps and move on. The language is open to there being other types of checks and attack rolls after all.

I think common sense approach can be made. There is an example.
Produce Flame has a Spell Attack Roll that is not always a Ranged Attack and tells us to treat it like a Melee Attack. Which we can do, not based on an explicit definition but based on analogy to Attack Roll.

On the rules you quoted it could benefit from flanking.

Grand Archive

Gortle wrote:
NovelEnigma wrote:


Why? Because a Melee Spell Attack is never defined as a melee attack. In fact, it is defined almost explicitly as not being a melee or ranged attack at all. Take the following text from the CRB
Core Rulebook pg. 446 2.0 wrote:
When you use a Strike action or make a spell attack, you attempt a check called an attack roll. Attack rolls take a variety of forms and are often highly variable based on the weapon you are using for the attack, but there are three main types: melee attack rolls, ranged attack rolls, and spell attack rolls. Spell attack rolls work a little bit differently, so they are explained separately on the next page.
.

Yep. A Melee Spell Attack Roll is not defined in the CRB. Spell Attack Rolls are a separate thing from Attack Rolls. Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.

So you are totally right. But as we actually want to play the game, we have to plug some gaps and move on. The language is open to there being other types of checks and attack rolls after all.

I think common sense approach can be made. There is an example.
Produce Flame has a Spell Attack Roll that is not always a Ranged Attack and tells us to treat it like a Melee Attack. Which we can do, not based on an explicit definition but based on analogy to Attack Roll.

On the rules you quoted it could benefit from flanking.

Yes, and as you likely saw, I already stated that Produce Flame seems to benefit from flanking. It is the other spells, like Shocking Grasp, that I am concerned for. Is Produce Flame the norm for melee spell attack rolls or an exception? It seems inconsistent either way that it would say "melee attack" as opposed to "melee spell attack".


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Ahh, you were equating "melee attack" with "melee attack roll". Those are closely related, but not the same. The "melee" in "melee attack" is a descriptor that can apply to spell attacks as well as it can to Strikes. That's just a consequence of overloading terms (Thanks, English).

Grand Archive

GM OfAnything wrote:
Ahh, you were equating "melee attack" with "melee attack roll". Those are closely related, but not the same. The "melee" in "melee attack" is a descriptor that can apply to spell attacks as well as it can to Strikes. That's just a consequence of overloading terms (Thanks, English).

I feel like this should be expressed in the rulebook because the terms "melee attack roll", "ranged attack roll", and "spell attack roll" exist but "melee attack" and "ranged attack" do not. This leads you to only have the "roll" information to use.


NovelEnigma wrote:
Yes, and as you likely saw, I already stated that Produce Flame seems to benefit from flanking. It is the other spells, like Shocking Grasp, that I am concerned for. Is Produce Flame the norm for melee spell attack rolls or an exception? It seems inconsistent either way that it would say "melee attack" as opposed to "melee spell attack".

Don't need to worry about Shocking Grasp it has melee attack in it's description:

Core Rulebook pg. 369 2.0 wrote:
You shroud your hands in a crackling field of lightning. Make a melee spell attack roll. On a hit, the target takes 2d12 electricity damage. If the target is wearing metal armor or is made of metal, you gain a +1 circumstance bonus to your attack roll with shocking grasp, and the target also takes 1d4 persistent electricity damage on a hit. On a critical hit, double the initial damage, but not the persistent damage.

As you said there's no clear definition that melee spell attack rolls is same of melee attacks in new Flanking rule but the good sense make's me to say they are they are valid.

Grand Archive

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YuriP wrote:
NovelEnigma wrote:
Yes, and as you likely saw, I already stated that Produce Flame seems to benefit from flanking. It is the other spells, like Shocking Grasp, that I am concerned for. Is Produce Flame the norm for melee spell attack rolls or an exception? It seems inconsistent either way that it would say "melee attack" as opposed to "melee spell attack".

Don't need to worry about Shocking Grasp it has melee attack in it's description:

Core Rulebook pg. 369 2.0 wrote:
You shroud your hands in a crackling field of lightning. Make a melee spell attack roll. On a hit, the target takes 2d12 electricity damage. If the target is wearing metal armor or is made of metal, you gain a +1 circumstance bonus to your attack roll with shocking grasp, and the target also takes 1d4 persistent electricity damage on a hit. On a critical hit, double the initial damage, but not the persistent damage.
As you said there's no clear definition that melee spell attack rolls is same of melee attacks in new Flanking rule but the good sense make's me to say they are they are valid.

My point is that Shocking Grasp doesn't have melee attack in its description, it has "melee spell attack". Produce Flame does say "melee attack" however.

Sovereign Court

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I don't see a specific definition for "melee attack" in the CRB. In the absence of a keyword definition, it should be read as plain English: a melee attack is an attack in melee, not at range. A fist is a melee attack. A sword Strike is a melee attack. Shocking grasp is a melee attack. Trip is a melee attack. All of these happen in melee and are attacks.

With the whole whip/finesse/trip fracas it became clear that attacks and attack rolls are not at all the same thing. So the passage in the CRB drawing a hard distinction between different types of attack rolls doesn't really transfer back to distinguishing those kinds of attacks.

Further shown by how Produce Flame states:

Quote:
Make a spell attack roll against your target’s AC. This is normally a ranged attack, but you can also make a melee attack against a creature in your unarmed reach.

So the spell attack is normally a ranged attack. Normal because it's a spell with an attack and range.

Sovereign Court

Consider also the opposite: what if it using the melee attack roll formula determined if it was a melee attack. We know that Grapple is not a melee attack roll. So Grapple would not be a melee attack. So if you grabbed someone who just cast Fiery Body you wouldn't burn...?


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NovelEnigma wrote:
YuriP wrote:
NovelEnigma wrote:
Yes, and as you likely saw, I already stated that Produce Flame seems to benefit from flanking. It is the other spells, like Shocking Grasp, that I am concerned for. Is Produce Flame the norm for melee spell attack rolls or an exception? It seems inconsistent either way that it would say "melee attack" as opposed to "melee spell attack".

Don't need to worry about Shocking Grasp it has melee attack in it's description:

Core Rulebook pg. 369 2.0 wrote:
You shroud your hands in a crackling field of lightning. Make a melee spell attack roll. On a hit, the target takes 2d12 electricity damage. If the target is wearing metal armor or is made of metal, you gain a +1 circumstance bonus to your attack roll with shocking grasp, and the target also takes 1d4 persistent electricity damage on a hit. On a critical hit, double the initial damage, but not the persistent damage.
As you said there's no clear definition that melee spell attack rolls is same of melee attacks in new Flanking rule but the good sense make's me to say they are they are valid.
My point is that Shocking Grasp doesn't have melee attack in its description, it has "melee spell attack". Produce Flame does say "melee attack" however.

Shocking Grasp is BOTH a spell attack AND a melee attack. Produce Flame is also both spell attack, and either a ranged or melee one as well depending on the caster's choice


Gortle wrote:
Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.

Where is this? Spell Attacks, Core Rulebook pg. 305, doesn't say that.

There is also this: "Touch Range
Source Core Rulebook pg. 304
"A spell with a range of touch requires you to physically touch the target. You use your unarmed reach to determine whether you can touch the creature. You can usually touch the target automatically, though the spell might specify that the target can attempt a saving throw or that you must attempt a spell attack roll." Note it says "attempt a spell attack roll" and not 'attempt a melee spell attack roll'.


graystone wrote:
Gortle wrote:
Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.

Where is this? Spell Attacks, Core Rulebook pg. 305, doesn't say that.

There is also this: "Touch Range
Source Core Rulebook pg. 304
"A spell with a range of touch requires you to physically touch the target. You use your unarmed reach to determine whether you can touch the creature. You can usually touch the target automatically, though the spell might specify that the target can attempt a saving throw or that you must attempt a spell attack roll." Note it says "attempt a spell attack roll" and not 'attempt a melee spell attack roll'.

We are talking about pages 446 and 447 of the CRB. There it defines Attack Rolls (as both melee and ranged), and separately Spell Attack Rolls( just ranged). Page 305 of the CRB talks about a Spell Attack Roll and mentions a range of 0 or more. But I haven't seen anywhere there is a definition of a melee spell attack its just spell attack. So there is a technical argument that it doesn't exist as it is not defined anywhere, we just create it based on the common sense principles in the rules.


What about effects like impossible repost? It would suggest that ranged spell attacks are ranged attacks.


Gortle wrote:
graystone wrote:
Gortle wrote:
Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.

Where is this? Spell Attacks, Core Rulebook pg. 305, doesn't say that.

There is also this: "Touch Range
Source Core Rulebook pg. 304
"A spell with a range of touch requires you to physically touch the target. You use your unarmed reach to determine whether you can touch the creature. You can usually touch the target automatically, though the spell might specify that the target can attempt a saving throw or that you must attempt a spell attack roll." Note it says "attempt a spell attack roll" and not 'attempt a melee spell attack roll'.

We are talking about pages 446 and 447 of the CRB. There it defines Attack Rolls (as both melee and ranged), and separately Spell Attack Rolls( just ranged). Pange 305 of the CRB talks about a Spell Attack Roll and mentions a range of 0 or more. But I haven't seen anywhere there is a definition of a melee spell attack its just spell attack. So there is a technical argument that it doesn't exist as it is not defined anywhere, we just create it based on the common sense principles in the rules.

Page 447 never mentions ranged. Or melee. It's all just spell attacks. 305 talks about spell attack in melee range but it's also never mentioned as a melee attack. Touch range only talks about range 0 as the starting point if you get something that increases range though you could take that to mean that you never melee with spells but make ranged attacks with a range of 0 [reach].

If you have any place where the rules for spell attacks are spelled out that also mentions them as ranged, please quote it and give a book and pg #.


graystone wrote:


If you have any place where the rules for spell attacks are spelled out that also mentions them as ranged, please quote it and give a book and pg #.

No they don't. Which is the whole point. Ranged Spell Attack or Melee Spell Attack is not a defined thing. They are defined for Attack Rolls, but that is something else. Range for Spell Attack is something that is talked about though p304


Gortle wrote:
No they don't. Which is the whole point.

Then I'm confused as you state "Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.": this doesn't match your statement "Ranged Spell Attack or Melee Spell Attack is not a defined thing." It can't be "defined as Ranged" and "not a defined thing".

304 talks about touch range but touch range attacks don't actually have range [it only has 0 range for range extension effects] but you "use your unarmed reach" and ranged attacks don't use reach. As such... it's a mess I wouldn't say proves it's ranged by default. I can see an argument for both melee or ranged for touch spell attacks. It would have been nice if 304 actually stated which it was counted as.


graystone wrote:
Gortle wrote:
No they don't. Which is the whole point.
Then I'm confused as you state "Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.": this doesn't match your statement "Ranged Spell Attack or Melee Spell Attack is not a defined thing."

That line is confusing, I retract it. Better would be.

Spell attacks can have range.

Only because range is an attribute that they can explicitly have in the rules, p304.


Gortle wrote:
graystone wrote:
Gortle wrote:
No they don't. Which is the whole point.
Then I'm confused as you state "Spell attacks are defined as Ranged not Melee.": this doesn't match your statement "Ranged Spell Attack or Melee Spell Attack is not a defined thing."

That line is confusing, I retract it. Better would be.

Spell attacks can have range.

Only because range is an attribute that they can explicitly have in the rules, p304.

Ok, that makes more sense to me. I can agree to that with the proviso that they can also have unarmed reach [and possibly range 0 at the same time]. The whole thing to me is that while range is mentioned you don't find the word melee anywhere in Spells, even touch ones. This further gets strange when you look at Targets on the same page where it says "The target must be within the spell’s range" and 'melee' spells are called "Touch Range" not 'melee'. Plus spell attack is a defined term unlike melee attack. Also stat block and damage rolls list melee, ranged and spell attacks making it weird if some of the spells are actually melee... or the Ghoul Adjustments "Add the paralysis ability to the creature's jaws, fangs, or similar unarmed attack. If the creature doesn't have one, add one with the same attack and damage as its strongest melee attack.": if we're treating spells as melee attacks, would this mean that ghoul with a no unarmed attacks but a 6th level vampiric touch would then get an unarmed attack that does 12d6 damage and uses it's spell proficiency to hit?

This makes wonder what's intended: I can already foresee people ruling against spell attacks being melee attacks.

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