Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have been brewing up a character build that uses Toppling Spell to knock creatures prone with Magic Missile. I stumbled across Kobold Style, specifically Kobold Groundling, and realized that if I could reliably trip with Magic Missile, I could apply Sneak Attack damage to prone enemies. However, I seen many posts online stating that you cannot apply sneak attack damage via Magic Missile because it does not make an attack roll.

A rogue's sneak attack text (from D20PFSRD):

Sneak Attack

If a rogue can catch an opponent when he is unable to defend himself effectively from her attack, she can strike a vital spot for extra damage.

The rogue's attack deals extra damage anytime her target would be denied a Dexterity bonus to AC (whether the target actually has a Dexterity bonus or not), or when the rogue flanks her target. This extra damage is 1d6 at 1st level, and increases by 1d6 every two rogue levels thereafter. Should the rogue score a critical hit with a sneak attack, this extra damage is not multiplied. Ranged attacks can count as sneak attacks only if the target is within 30 feet.

With a weapon that deals nonlethal damage (like a sap, whip, or an unarmed strike), a rogue can make a sneak attack that deals nonlethal damage instead of lethal damage. She cannot use a weapon that deals lethal damage to deal nonlethal damage in a sneak attack, not even with the usual –4 penalty.

The rogue must be able to see the target well enough to pick out a vital spot and must be able to reach such a spot. A rogue cannot sneak attack while striking a creature with concealment.

Casting Magic Missile against an enemy is, grammatically speaking, attacking an enemy, and the specific wording doesn't specify making an attack roll. Can someone please point me to where this distinction is made?

share|improve this question
I'm pretty sure the answer here is "Because sneak attack requires a weapon attack", but the real question then is "Where does it actually say that?" – MrLemon Feb 22 at 16:51
It is common to sneak attack with Ray spells, and rays are weapon-like spells, but are not weapon attacks. Its sort of vague on what applies and what does not. – IanJohnstone Feb 22 at 16:55
This is not exactly RAW, but Magic Missile is not a spell that you can aim with (it always hits target creature and that's about it) so it would be silly to apply precision damage to it. On the other hand, spells that require ranged/melee touch attacks I would be much more pensive about... – eimyr Feb 22 at 16:55
In D&D 5E, an "attack" is when you make an attack roll. If you don't make an attack roll (for example, a spell with a saving throw ) then you are not making an attack. Does Pathfinder have a similar rule? – Greenstone Walker Feb 22 at 19:52
@GreenstoneWalker On the PFSRD, under the rules for Combat > Standard Actions > 'Attack' action, the rules for the different types of attacks are outlined. These are categorized as Melee, Unarmed, Ranged, and Natural. Ray spells are called out in the rules on Magic as being treated as ranged weapons. Spells without attack rolls are not included in any of those four categories , so though there is no explicit rule, it could be summarized that way. Saving throws are treated completely differently in 5e; I wouldn't categorize spells requiring a save as an attack in PFRPG. – LegendaryDude Feb 22 at 21:36
up vote 31 down vote accepted

Magic Missile cannot be 'targeted'

The Rogue's sneak attack...

If a rogue can catch an opponent when he is unable to defend himself effectively from her attack, she can strike a vital spot for extra damage.

...must be aimed at a 'vital' part of the creature. Magic Missile...

The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat, so long as it has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can't be singled out. Objects are not damaged by the spell.

...cannot be aimed in such a manner. It simply 'hits' the target.

share|improve this answer
That makes sense. Point of clarification, though. Does that mean if my Kobold Groundling rogue uses a lightning bolt (or other similar attack spell that does not use an attack roll) to a prone opponent within 30 feet, I can apply sneak attack damage? – IanJohnstone Feb 22 at 17:59
@IanJohnstone That's a good question for this site. I suggest posting it separately. Short answer: lightning bolt is an area of effect spell, so no. – LegendaryDude Feb 22 at 18:54
@IanJohnstone I think I saw it somewhere that sneak attacks can only be performed with weapons or spells that warrant an attack roll, i.e. can/must be aimed. – Cobalt Feb 22 at 19:34
@IanJohnstone It seems RAW indicate "and must be able to reach such a spot", I read that as you must be next to the target. But that would also invalidate the "ranged attacks within 30 feet", so I'd say that the rules-as-written are somewhat ambiguous. – Vatine Feb 23 at 14:37
@Cobalt I don't disagree and this isn't the place to debate, but food for thought. You choose the direction of a lightning bolt. That is aiming it. Could a savvy rogue not choose a line that pierces a flatfooted enemy's vital spot, if that enemy was within 30' of him? Anyway, my question was answered. The answer just left me with more questions and a GM with more headaches. Thanks everyone. – IanJohnstone Feb 23 at 14:42

It is because in order to apply Sneak Attack, the rogue must be able to precisely aim his attack at a vital body part (for example, creatures of type: elementals are immune -- they have no vital parts). Even though Pathfinder doesn't have specific body-part targeting by default, it is an abstraction of that concept. Magic Missile cannot, under any circumstance, be targeted at a specific part of a creature, and the wording in Magic Missile that says "specific parts of a creature can't be singled out" is there specifically to prevent applying Sneak Attack damage to a Magic Missile attack, amongst other things.

As an aside, keep in mind that if you were allowed to apply sneak attack dice to Magic Missile you would be negating the Arcane Trickster prestige class' 10th level ability, Surprise Spells, which is a specific rule that overrides the general Sneak Attack rules:

Surprise Spells:

At 10th level, an arcane trickster can add her sneak attack damage to any spell that deals damage, if the targets are flat-footed. This additional damage only applies to spells that deal hit point damage, and the additional damage is of the same type as the spell. If the spell allows a saving throw to negate or halve the damage, it also negates or halves the sneak attack damage.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.