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How does the spell Flame Blade interact with the dervish dance feat?

If they do not work together, how balanced would it be to let them work together?

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Rules as Written

It Doesn't Affect the Damage Rolls

Dervish Dance doesn't increase the damage when using a Flame Blade. Dervish Dance says "you can use your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier on melee attack and damage rolls", while Flame Blade says that "Since the blade is immaterial, your Strength modifier does not apply to the damage". So at best, you're swapping one modifier that doesn't apply for another modifier that still doesn't apply.

It Might Affect the Attack Rolls

Flame Blade says "you wield this blade-like beam as if it were a scimitar". That implies that, in the absence of anything more specific, feats like Dervish Dance and Weapon Focus (scimitar) are meant to apply to the Flame Blade. While the spell has more specific wording about damage rolls, it doesn't apply that wording to attack rolls.

That said, the Kingmaker AP has a published NPC that uses a Flame Blade (SPOILER WARNING for Kingmaker: stats here). She has Weapon Finesse, but not Dervish Dance. However, in her stat block, her attack roll is calculated using Weapon Finesse.

That's not unreasonable - the Blade is weightless, so it might count as a "light weapon" for the purposes of Weapon Finesse. This shows that some GMs allow Weapon Finesse on Flame Blades even without Dervish Dance. Personally, I think that "as if it were a scimitar" is the more specific rule, so you'd need Dervish Dance to get the bonus on attack rolls. But if your GM decides that Weapon Finesse is enough, they wouldn't be alone.

How Balanced Would It Be?

For Druids, Good But Not Broken

It would be good, possibly very good, but probably not game-breaking. In the hands of druids and shaman, I think it can be considered a kind of alternative to the wizard's Transformation spell.

I think the way to evaluate this is to ask: "if I built a character to take maximum advantage of this change, how powerful would they be?". There are lots of abilities in Pathfinder that might seem reasonable or even underpowered that can become devastating in the right combinations.

It's also important to factor in a certain amount of power creep over the course of a campaign. House rules can snowball over time as you encounter new situations that you hadn't originally considered. For example, I'm going to assume that Flame Blade also qualifies for Pirahna Strike.

Scimitar Comparison

Let's look at the ways that Flame Blade might be better than an ordinary scimitar...

Damage Total

Advantage: Flame Blade's base damage is higher by (level / 2).

Counterargument: Flame Blade can't be enchanted - there's no such thing as a +2 keen flame blade. This probably balances out.

Damage Type

Advantage: Flame Blade deals fire damage. As such, it bypasses a lot of DR.

Counterargument: Fire resistance is essentially DR for fire damage. A lot more creatures also just have total immunity to fire damage.

Chance to Hit

Advantage: Flame Blade makes touch attacks, which are much more likely to hit.

Counterargument: Flame Blade is only available to classes with 3/4 BAB like Druids, Hunters, and Shaman. Those classes make fewer attacks with a lower chance to hit than full BAB classes like Fighters and Paladins.

Smite Evil

As a final thought, let's also consider how Flame Blade compares to a Paladin's Smite Evil, since they're both limited-use abilities that improve attacks:

  • Smite Evil adds the Paladin's level to the damage roll, which is twice what Flame Blade offers. Smite Evil also bypasses all DR.
  • Flame Blade makes touch attacks, but Smite Evil adds the Paladin's Cha bonus to attacks. Making touch attacks is probably better, but the Cha bonus isn't nothing.
  • Smite Evil applies to a single creature. With a duration in minutes, one Flame Blade could last through more than one fight. On the other hand, a Flame Blade can be destroyed through SR, dispel magic, and the like.
  • Smite Evil only works on evil creatures. That said, if you're playing a Paladin, major enemies will probably be evil more often than not.
  • Smite Evil only takes a swift action and also improves the Paladin's AC.

All told, I think Flame Blade lags behind something like Smite Evil in terms of overall power. Yes, it lasts longer, but it has plenty of other disadvantages. While Flame Blade would be a lot better with this change, in many cases a Druid will still have better options available.

You could probably build a pretty effective Druid who habitually uses this Flame Blade in melee, but the investment in feats, gear, and ability points in Dex would mean giving up some power in other areas. I think that means it's fairly balanced.

For Non-Druids, It's Complicated

In the hands of other classes via UMD or Scabbard of the Lost Kiss, the balance questions are more complicated.

Classes like the Magus and the Paladin have abilities like Arcane Pool and Divine Bond that can be used to enhance their weapons. This raises the question of whether a Flame Blade counts as a "weapon" for this purpose, since then a Flame Blade could be "enchanted" for all intents and purposes.

RAW, my instinct is to say that it does count. The definition of "weapon" seems to be fairly broad - it generally includes improvised weapons, shields being used to bash, and natural weapons. That said, I don't think I would allow it in my game - the idea that a Paladin could stack Flame Blade with both Smite Evil and Divine Bond seems pretty OP to me.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Looking forward to the coming soon. This is really helpful. Will mark as correct once the last part is filled in. Thanks \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 15:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Question about your enchantment section. If a magus were to wield one, as per Scabbard of the Lost Kiss - would it then be enhanceable with their arcane pool? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 23:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erudaki Excellent question, and one that's making me substantially rethink my answer. Not so much because a Magus specifically would be OP, but because I now see a whole range of new combinations I hadn't considered. Apparently I didn't take my own advice about bewaring power creep 😀. I'll try to amend my post to respond in detail. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben S.
    Commented Jan 23, 2021 at 9:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about metamagic? \$\endgroup\$
    – PnP
    Commented Nov 30, 2023 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PnP I don't think feats like Empower or Maximize Spell are supposed to be allowed for lasting spells like Flame Blade, but I can't find a source for that. Empower and Maximize don't seem too bad unless you can figure out a way to apply them to Scabbard of the Lost Kiss. However, I definitely wouldn't allow feats that attach extra effects when dealing damage like Cherry Blossom Spell and Dazing Spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben S.
    Commented Feb 4 at 1:31

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