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I played The Confirmation yesterday, and it was a rather interesting experience. Our party consisted of:

  • 2 Arcanists with Grease and Color Spray prepared and Quick-Study (my friend and me)
  • A party face Sorcerer with Charm Person and Color Spray (it was the player's choice to play with this spell set)
  • A Summoner with Augment Summoning and Cha 20
  • A pregen Ranger
  • An Arcanist with Spell Specialization (Burning Hands) and Potent Magic, dealing 5d4 points of damage with BH, DC 17 to half.

This question contains spoilers about the said scenario. Continue reading at your own discretion.

The first encounter was against

two Spider Swarms, which are immune to weapon damage.

A friendly NPC gave us

one bottle of Alchemist's Fire, but the only member of our party who could do meaningful damage was the BH Arcanist.

Yes, my friend and me could Quick Study BH too, but it would cost us a lot of resources, so we decided to conserve our resources and just watch our blaster burn the enemies.

The third encounter was against

Zombies, also immune to mind-affecting spells.

Again, I couldn't do much against them. This time, our Summoner used their Eidolon, I used some Grease, and the blaster did some damage again.

By the final encounter,

the Minotaur,

our blaster was out of spells (or has cast one spell left, don't remember). I still had spell slots, and have cast Grease and Color Spray. The Summoner summoned an Eagle who immediately started full attacking. However...

...being a 5 HD creature, the Minotaur was only stunned for 1 round by my Color Spray, and it was also pretty good at resisting my DC 17 Grease, though it fell once. The Eagle was doing OK, though.

Also, our party was partially out of spell slots by the end of this, and there was actually supposed to be one more encounter against

kobolds,

which we skipped. I guess, that's the only situation where Color Spray would've worked.

During the previous sessions, the encounters were mainly against goblins, who are easily affected by Color Spray or Grease. However, I am now very confused if my build is actually viable, and if it is likely to stay viable. Unspecialized blasting is very weak, so I clearly need to find something to do when my enemies are immune to mind-affecting spells and/or have high HD. My GM told us "you have not seen oozes yet", meaning that our party would likely lose to one.

I just got to level 2 after this session, and I am using slow progression to let my friends keep up with me. However, I am interested in answers that touch later levels too.

Note that I don't feel useless out of combat or when facing enemies who are affected by Color Spray or Sleep.

Actually blasting

The best I can get is Burning Hands for 1d4 fire damage per CL, DC 16 to half. I can boost my CL from 2 to 3, or DC to 17. This is probably the only thing I can do against swarms and oozes, please correct me if I am wrong.

Summoning

I am considering that as a backup, but it's very short-lasting at the early levels. The best I can get from a spell slot (if spending Arcane Reservoir at 1st level) is 6 attacks at +3 to hit and d4+1 to damage (from smiting). This is a lot better single-target damage than my Burning Hands, but still not much, and doesn't work against swarms. However, it does work against the undead.

Bufffing allies

Again, not much I can do here. I can give an ally Mage Armor, which doesn't help against swarms, and I can cast Resistance. That's it, pretty much.

Save or die

Creatures with high HD are immune to or weakly affected by low-level spells, and low-level save or die spells are also mind-affecting.


So, what can I use to be useful in battles against (1) swarms, (2) enemies with a lot of HD and (3) those immune to mind-affecting effects?

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Your build, character, and party

You are a low-level spellcaster—you do not have the stamina you will in a few levels. You should be aiming to decisively change the course of a battle in one spell, and then leave it to your mundane allies with mundane options to take whatever advantage you set up, and finish the encounter.

Your party is fairly magic-heavy, so you won’t be able to reach that ideal every time, but you’re also more magic-heavy so you can afford to be a little more profligate with your party’s spells. For example, a blaster can be thought of as a fancy archer in this scenario.

Finally, you built a spellcaster to be flexible—arcanist does that by default, and then you took quick study on top of that—but then you didn’t use that flexibility. You don’t note either arcanist ever actually using quick study. You apparently sat around doing nothing to the swarms or zombies, and then you burned color spray on a minotaur, which isn’t really the ideal use of the spell (though frankly, 1-round stun on the entire enemy force is still an excellent result for a standard action).

Your challenges

The other important thing to realize is that this was a long day, relatively speaking, and more importantly, swarms are BS. They basically respond to nothing but blasting—which would ordinarily be a suboptimal choice. Your mundane options basically don’t apply at all, forcing you to spend spells. Your party is actually very lucky to have had a blaster at all. That said, since they take 50% extra damage from area spells, and tend to have poor stats beyond their swarm BS, they should go down relatively quickly to them—and not only did your party have someone with burning hands prepared, your party also had two spellcasters who could get it if necessary. Very, very few parties are likely to be able to handle that encounter at that level as well as yours. For plenty of parties, it would have been a hard counter—forcing them to give up, turn around, and at best, try again another day.

Finally, when you prepare color spray, the enemy you have in mind is those goblins you fought the previous day—or the kobolds you didn’t fight this day. Using it on a minotaur is not quite the situation where it shines—and you still got a round of stun out of it, which is phenomenal.

The real issues

Aside from not using the flexibility you built for, you also seem to have a party that is struggling to capitalize on the opportunities the spellcasters are making. Stunning a minotaur for 1 round should basically decide that fight. It might not be dead by the time it gets up, but stunning makes it drop its weapons if it has any, plus it gives you a round or more to just pile on the damage. Its ability to come back from that is really limited. Dealing 45 damage in a round for a party of 1st-level characters is, itself, very plausible, though probably not for your party after the swarm and zombie encounters.

What this probably comes down to is new characters, quite possibly built with a mind for future levels that haven’t been realized yet. 1st-level play is completely different from the rest of the game, and mostly, it’s just something you have to get through. As characters get more powerful, providing a wide-open 1-round window of opportunity will win encounters outright. That’s what you should aim for.

What you can do in the meantime

It depends—do you expect to fight swarms regularly? Because they aren’t that common an enemy type, and they require special resources that aren’t going to be worthwhile unless you are fighting them more often than typical. In particular, buying items of blasting spells is generally a terrible idea—they’re overpriced and the caster level doesn’t scale, so you can’t really keep up with them. You are probably better off just actually using your quick study, and making sure the party members who don’t have access to blasts of any kind are stocked up with alchemist’s fire. It won’t work well, but it will be cheap. If you insist on items of blasting spells, definitely go with scrolls—a wand is going to become obsolete long before you get through 50 charges.

But mostly, the answer is, stop being 1st level. In fact, get through 2nd level too—it’s a huge step up from 1st but is still tinged with a bit of the weirdnesses that plague 1st level. At 1st level, dying in one blow is all too likely, at 2nd it’s still a risk, but by 3rd you usually have a little wiggle room. And then at 4th, with 2nd-level spells, you get new, more powerful options, and a substantial uptick in stamina.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just a note -- we sat doing nothing because I was sure that the blaster could blast really well for our level (5d4 at level 1, Reflex 17 to halve), and that the two swarms would be gone really quickly (as it happened), and that using BH ourselves would most likely be a waste of resources. Even though our GM forgot about swarms getting +50% damage from AoE -- but he also forgot about them forcing Concentration checks (the blaster stood inside one of the swarms to hit them both with her spell). Otherwise, a very good answer! \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Aug 3 at 16:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy That’s fair, my point isn’t “you were doing it wrong!” so much as “you have to recognize that there were things you could have done that you didn’t do, which affects how much you can expect to contribute. Your tactical decision was sound. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 3 at 21:12
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Use gear to add versatility

A pathfinder character should always have multiple options of things to do. Spellcasters, in particular, are very good at being versatile, thanks mainly to their ability to use spell trigger and spell commpletion items to supplement their built-in character abilities, at a cost in gold. Scrolls and wands of spells allow you to add limited-uses of spells you did not want to use constantly for your character.

For an offensive caster, like your own build, you could easily buy a few scrolls of Burning Hands or some other blasting-type spell to supplement your normal spells, at a cost of 25gp per scroll. Even at character creation, you are likely to be able to purchase one or two of these. This is also comparable to the 20gp per alchemist fire flask, and easier for you to get better results out of.

In addition, in Pathfinder Society, you will generally be receiving 1 or 2 Prestige per successful scenario. You can spend 2 prestige to purchase a wand of a first level spell. This would allow you to purchase a wand of Burning Hands or Magic Missile, potentially after your first scenario. Burning Hands is a decent low-level damage option, but will be good against swarms for many levels. Magic Missile won't harm a swarm, but will do full damage to a number of enemy types that others have troubles hurting at low levels (such as Incorporeal creatures), and can often be used to finish off a wounded enemy.

Specifically for dealing with Swarms, area effects also deal an extra 50% damage to them. Swarms are also immune to single-target effects, even if not immune to mind-effecting spells, meaning a non-blasting caster will likely have no other practical way to harm a swarm of creatures immune to weapon damage.

Lastly, note that the Confirmation is intended to be a learning scenario. Swarms are difficult to deal with if you are not prepared to do so, but are not an uncommon creature type. Swarms are encountered maybe 1 in 4 or 5 scenarios. In a similar fashion, Undead and constructs are a commonly encountered creature type immune to mind-affecting spells.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. A Wand of BH deals 2.5 damage if the target fails its save. It is actually worth it? Are Swarms that common? I thought, such a low amount of damage will become redundant really quickly. Also, you didn't touch upon creatures who are not swarms, like the Minotaur from the said scenario. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Feb 13 at 21:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy Area effects also deal an extra 50% damage against swarms. And there is exactly no other way to hurt swarms. Still better than nothing. And, yeah, swarms are encountered maybe 1 in 4 or 5 scenarios. \$\endgroup\$ – YogoZuno Feb 14 at 0:31

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