The rules for nonlethal damage state:

You can use a melee weapon that deals lethal damage to deal nonlethal damage instead, but you take a –4 penalty on your attack roll.

Does this allow for a spellcaster wielding a weapon-like touch spell to deal nonlethal damage with that spell's effect without needing to take a metamagic nonlethal substitution feat?

Relates to this question, but this specific question seems to be unanswered.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You may also be interested in this question. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2018 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Thanks, I linked to that as a related question. I'm still hopeful someone can find a rule that states for certain "yes" or "no" that melee touch spells can or cannot be made nonlethal with a -4 attack penalty. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 4, 2018 at 17:37

2 Answers 2


No, with one exception.

Touch spells are not weapons, though they may be treated as weapons for certain effects, such as the Touch Range section of the SRD, which says (emphasis mine):

A touch spell that deals damage can score a critical hit just as a weapon can. A touch spell threatens a critical hit on a natural roll of 20 and deals double damage on a successful critical hit.

or the Weaponlike Spells section of Complete Arcane (p72) which says (emphasis mine):

Any spell that requires an attack roll and deals damage functions as a weapon in certain respects.

This is pertinent since the Nonlethal Damage section of the SRD says (emphasis mine):

You can use a melee weapon that deals lethal damage to deal nonlethal damage instead, but you take a –4 penalty on your attack roll.

Thus touch spells are not weapons, but can act like them in certain, defined, circumstances. Being able to deal nonlethal damage at will for an attack penalty is not one of them.

However, if a spell produces a melee weapon that you can attack with, even as touch attacks, then you can attempt non-lethal attacks with the produced weapon.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What about spells and powers that generate melee weapons as a function of the spell? Wall of Blades or Psychic Scimitar, anyone? Would those count? \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    Apr 5, 2018 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nijineko Wall of blades if you mean the Iron Heart counter, uses a weapon in your hand. Flame blade and psychic scimitar do indeed produce (immaterial) melee weapons, and thus are eligible for striking non-lethally. I'll update. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chemus
    Apr 5, 2018 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ In that case, I guess you'd argue it'd likewise be legit to cast spells that target weapons on those ersatz weapons created by magical effects? (That's my (not-so-)subtle(?) way of encouraging you to add an answer to this question.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5, 2018 at 18:52


Complete Arcane specifies a number of ways in which “weapon-like spells” behave somewhat like weapons, but this aspect of “weapon-hood” isn’t mentioned. Absent a specific mention, spells would not have this property, even if they are weapon-like.

The Subdual Subsitution metamagic feat can allow any spell to become nonlethal, however, and does not apply any spell level adjustment. That still has drawbacks (needing to prepare it ahead of time, or extend casting time, or just not applying to spell-like abilities1), but it’s the best available.

  1. Complete Arcane does say “[Sudden metamagic feats] don’t require modified spell slots, so they work as well with spell-like abilities or invocations as they do with spells,” emphasis mine. That logic is found nowhere else in the rules, and RAW, it’s basically nonsense and to be ignored (at best it establishes a special exception for those feats and nothing else), but if you want to make a case to your DM about using Subdual Substitution on invocations, it might help.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .