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While reading several spell entries I realized that most attack spells have "Targets 1 creature", and most area damage spells only say that "You deal X damage to creatures in the area".

Does this really mean you can only attack or damage creatures with them?

This seems absurd to me, and extremely gamist. I hope that I'm missing something or I'll have to come up with a house rule to fix it.

Several examples of what I mean:

Can you burn a letter with Produce Flame or Burning Hands?

Can you melt a wooden door with Acid Arrow?

Can you destroy a barn with Meteor Swarm?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you asking for a list of spells that actually can damage unattended items or simply whether or not spells that target creatures can instead target such items? \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Jan 26 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not looking for a list, I just want to know what kind of spells can affect objects, i.e. only those that explicitly say so, or, all with the attack trait, or some other generic rule, if there is one. Edited the title for clarity. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yopi Lapi
    Jan 26 at 16:26
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It seems that "objects" are most likely a subset of "creatures"; thus anything that targets a creature can target an object at the GM's discretion.

From the Gamemastery Guide's guidelines on Saying "Yes, But":

Require a directed attack against an object, then allow foes to attempt saving throws against the object’s effect at a DC you choose. Example: cast a produce flame spell at a barrel of explosives.

Note that Produce Flame targets "1 creature", and in this instance is used against a barrel of explosives (which would most likely be considered an object). This is from a section on GM discretion, and is only a recommendation, but it does provide decent evidence that objects are being thought of as a subset of creatures; thus something that can target a creature should be able to target an unattended object.

Attended objects generally cannot be attacked unless specified otherwise. See the Item rules:

Damaging an unattended item usually requires attacking it directly, and can be difficult due to that item’s Hardness and immunities. You usually can’t attack an attended object (one on a creature’s person).

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's an interesting example, but if this is right, I wonder what's the point of having some spells specify that the target can be a creature or an object, like disintegrate. Maybe just to note that the effect is different depending on the target? \$\endgroup\$
    – Yopi Lapi
    Jan 26 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @YopiLapi Yeah; disintegrate affects objects differently. I'm not familiar with other spells that allow for targeting one or the other, but there could be more. One of those that has "creature or object" as a target but no different effects in the spell description would be a nice counter example to my argument and also answer your question in the other way. \$\endgroup\$
    – ESCE
    Jan 26 at 19:01
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It's... up to the GM.

I tried to address this issue in the broadest sense possible, to try and find some general rule or guideline that can be applied to any spell, instead of trying to ascertain it in a spell by spell basis.

In general, spells can be classified into two categories according to what they affect: a target, or an area.

Area Spells

For area spells, this is somewhat addressed in the CRB p.456, the section about area effects:

Many area effects describe only the effects on creatures in the area. The GM determines any effects to the environment and unattended objects.

This doesn't really tell us anything, it just leaves the work to GM. Under this rule, the same exact situation could be decided differently depending on the GM. One could rule that Burning Hands can light a torch, and the other that it can't, and both would be right.

For me, as a GM, this is a drawback as I like to rely on the rules as much as possible, and I can see several situations where this could lead to an argument with my players. But it's definitely better than the rules staying silent about it.

Targeted Spells

Now, about targeted spells, the situation is a bit different. According to the CRB p.304, the section about spell targets:

Some spells allow you to directly target a creature, an object, or something that fits a more specific category.

If you choose a target that isn’t valid, such as if you thought a vampire was a living creature and targeted it with a spell that can target only living creatures, your spell fails to target that creature.

The rules clearly make a distinction between creatures and objects, and they mention what happens if you choose an invalid target (albeit it is a bit unclear to me what "fails to target" means).

And some spells seem to follow this rule just fine, e.g. the spell Paralyze has a target of "1 creature", while the spell Shatter has a target of "1 unattended object", and the spell Hydraulic Push has a target of "1 creature or unattended object". So, clearly Paralyze can't target unattended objects, and Shatter can't target creatures, but Hydraulic Push can target both. And in this case it makes sense.

One could think this is all there is to it: for a spell to target an object it must explicitly indicate so. But this breaks immersion and seems really silly when you take into account several spells that perform an attack. Why would you be able to target a creature with those, but not an object? Take for example Acid Arrow, it has a target of "1 creature", but what it does is simply creating a magic arrow and shooting it to wherever you point, it would actually make sense to shoot it at an object if you wanted to.

This is, again, somewhat addressed in the GMG p.28, the section about adjudicating rules for players with "creative ideas" that fall out of the rules, as pointed out by ESCE in his answer:

Some of the most memorable moments come from situations that inherently call for a rules interpretation, like when a player wants to do something creative using the environment. The variety of these situations is limited only by the imagination of your players. It’s usually better to say “yes” than “no,” within reason. For example, [...] what about a player who wants to use a fire spell to deliberately ignite a barrel of oil? Surely that should have some effect!

This is where you can use a variant of the well-known improv “Yes, and,” technique: you can say “Yes, but.” With “Yes, but,” you allow the player’s creative idea, but tie it into the world and the game rules via some sort of additional consequences, potentially adding the uncertainty of an additional roll.

This basically acknowledges that casting a fire spell to ignite a barrel of oil is something outside of the rules but that would make sense, and then goes on to describe some optional house rule to handle this kind of situations. In one of the examples, it uses Produce Flame, a spell with a target of "1 creature", to attack a barrel, something not allowed by the rules:

Require a directed attack against an object, then allow foes to attempt saving throws against the object’s effect at a DC you choose. Example: cast a produce flame spell at a barrel of explosives.

Why this use of a spell is something out the scope of the rules is beyond my comprehension. In the end, the situation with targeted spells is very similar to that of area spells: when used against unattended objects, if the spell says nothing about it, it's up to the GM to work out some kind of house rule to make it work.

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In general, spells can be assumed to damage unattended objects in their area when appropriate. Mostly people don't bother however, because it's usually not relevant or interesting.

How much damage an object takes, if it takes any at all, is subject to the material the object is made of, the type of damage, and a few other factors. You'll want to take a look at the Item Damage rules for an idea of how items take damage, and a look at the Material rules for an idea of how durable different materials are, but I'll give a general overview here.

Item Hardness functions much the same as Resistance does for creatures: it reduces the amount of damage an item takes by the hardness value. Unlike resistances, it applies to every type of damage rather than specific ones. Each type of material has a different hardness value, ranging from 0 (a stick, scraps of cloth) to 18 (a reinforced iron plate wall) for normal material, or even higher for special materials like mithril and adamantium.

You might rule that certain damage types bypass hardness against certain materials, such as fire damage against wood or cloth, or acid against iron. Similarly, it may also be reasonable in some cases to rule that certain damage types are less effective against certain materials. This is strictly GM discretion though.

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