The Mesmerist class ability "Painful Stare" reads as follows:

Painful Stare (Su)

When an attack that deals damage [my emphasis] hits the target of a mesmerist’s hypnotic stare, the mesmerist can cause the target to take an amount of additional damage equal to 1/2 the mesmerist’s class level (minimum 1).

The mesmerist can use this ability as a free action, and can use it even if it isn’t his turn. If the mesmerist uses this ability to increase his own damage, the additional damage increases by 1d6 points for every 3 class levels the mesmerist possesses. This damage is precision damage and is not multiplied on a critical hit. A mesmerist can trigger this ability only once per round, but a single creature can take damage from multiple mesmerists’ painful stares in a round.

My question pertains to the first sentence in the entry of this ability. Try as I might, I can't seem to find a specific definition in the Pathfinder core book for what exactly qualifies as "an attack".

Are all spells attacks? Or only the ones that require attack rolls? For that matter, are any spells attacks?

Please include specific sources (page number or link to an SRD, for example).


2 Answers 2


Attacks are defined in the Magic chapter of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook. From the bottom of page 208 in my 5th printing PDF:

All offensive combat actions, even those that don’t damage opponents, are considered attacks. Attempts to channel energy count as attacks if it would harm any creatures in the area. All spells that opponents resist with saving throws, that deal damage, or that otherwise harm or hamper subjects are attacks. Spells that summon monsters or other allies are not attacks because the spells themselves don’t harm anyone.

Emphasis mine. All offensive combat actions are attacks, and so, all damaging spells are attacks. So long as the attack is dealing damage, painful stare would trigger on it (though still only once per round, as the stare notes).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent. I should have thought to look in the rest of the book, but I was so sure it would be in the Combat section. \$\endgroup\$
    – R. Barrett
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 19:52

Not all spells are attacks, but spells can be weapon-like, in which they're treated as attacks for all purposes.

If you make an attack roll, it's an attack. Weapon-like spells are spells which require an attack roll and, thus, are attacks which can benefit from any effect which affects attacks (eg., a Mesmerist's Painful Stare, Weapon Specialization, sneak attack, etc.).

source and source

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that not all spells that attack are "weaponlike". Shard of Chaos uses a ranged touch attack, but is NOT a ray, and so is not affected by Weapon Specialization-Ray, and suchlike. \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 22:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage Can you cite a rule or ruling about non-ray attack-rolling spells? I would have assumed, based on the FAQ that minnmass links, such spells would also be considered weapon-like. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wouldnt anything that requires an attack roll be considered an attack? \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 23:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage Shards is still weapon like, but bit a ray. You could still sneak attack with it, but Weapon Specialization: Ray wouldn't affect it, just like a dagger is still a weapon but weapon spec: hammer doesn't affect the dagger. \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 23:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ A spell does not have to be weaponlike to be an attack. Anything that requires an attack roll is likely an attack, but an attack does not necessarily require an attack roll. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 23:58

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