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Suppose a player character has vampiric touch or scorching ray and is about to attack a paralyzed goblin. Will the vampiric touch or scorching ray auto crit against it?

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    \$\begingroup\$ When making a coup de grace or just a (normal) attack? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 5:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ When you say "auto-crit", do you mean a Coup de Grace? There's a number of effects that automatically confirm crits or similar, but those don't seem to be what you intend. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 12:31

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Yes but...

In order to do so, you need to be 'holding the charge'. This means you have to cast the spell one round prior to attempting a coup de grace. Afterwards, the spell will discharge if you make an attack with your unarmed strike or natural weapon. This will take longer than a typical Coup de Grace, but will cause critical spell damage, as the associated melee hit is going to be a crit as well.

Holding the Charge: If you don't discharge the spell in the round when you cast the spell, you can hold the charge indefinitely. You can continue to make touch attacks round after round. If you touch anything or anyone while holding a charge, even unintentionally, the spell discharges. If you cast another spell, the touch spell dissipates. You can touch one friend as a standard action or up to six friends as a full-round action. Alternatively, you may make a normal unarmed attack (or an attack with a natural weapon) while holding a charge. In this case, you aren't considered armed and you provoke attacks of opportunity as normal for the attack. If your unarmed attack or natural weapon attack normally doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity, neither does this attack. If the attack hits, you deal normal damage for your unarmed attack or natural weapon and the spell discharges. If the attack misses, you are still holding the charge.

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Spell attacks cannot deliver a coup de grace

The rules say that a paralyzed creature is helpless, and the helpless condition says:

Melee attacks against a helpless target get a +4 bonus (equivalent to attacking a prone target).

As a full-round action, an enemy can use a melee weapon to deliver a coup de grace to a helpless foe. An enemy can also use a bow or crossbow, provided he is adjacent to the target. The attacker automatically hits and scores a critical hit.

So to deal critical damage, you need to coup de grace. You can only do so with a melee weapon, a bow or a crossbow. Your spell attacks are neither of those, so they can not be used to auto-crit.

You would however enjoy the +4 bonus to hit the paralyzed creature with vampiric touch, at the spell instructs you to make a melee touch attack, and any melee attack gets that bonus.

Addendum: The way your question is worded makes me think that you just want to understand if spells that make an attack roll, when cast on a paralyzed target, would deal critical damage. (In particular, you give both a ranged and a melee spell attack example without difference). This is what I am answering.

As others point out, there are ways you could deliver a melee spell attack like shocking grasp in a coup de grace through a weapon and thus have the attack deal critical damage, e.g. through holding charge and using a natural weapon instead of a touch attack. This would however need more set-up than what I believe you had in mind with your question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It is worth mentioning that attacking with a natural weapon while holding a charge WILL deliver the spell on a hit, and cause the spell to crit during a coup de grace. Your fist counts for this. So, you most certainly CAN deliver a coup de grace with a spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your fist doesn't count. It's not a "melee weapon, bow, or crossbow". Natural attacks count as melee weapons, so they work. Yet even with Improved Unarmed Strike, you just count as armed - your fists don't count as weapons. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 11:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gloweye Unarmed strike shows up in the weapons table on both pfsrd and aonprd, and its description states "An unarmed strike is always considered a light weapon." before continuing on to say that that means Weapon Finesse - which only works with weapons - works with it, etc. It does specify that it's not the same thing as a natural weapon - so Erudaki is slightly off with their wording - but you can certainly perform a coup de grace with your bare hands, even if you weren't wielding a dangerous spell. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 16:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, you're right. My apologies. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 21:45
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No

Pathfinder doesn't have "auto-crit" as part of the ruleset.

You're probably thinking about Coup de Grace, which is technically not an attack.

As a full-round action, you can [...] deliver a coup de grace (pronounced “coo day grahs”) to a helpless opponent.

You can do so with a melee weapon, bow, or crossbow. While holding the charge of a touch spell counts as being armed, it doesn't count as any kind of weapon. Neither does Scorched Ray or other spells with attack rolls.

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You could auto crit a Vampiric Touch on a helpless creature with the following prerequisites :

  • Your character has to coup de grace

Coup de Grace

As a full-round action, you can use a melee weapon to deliver a coup de grace (pronounced “coo day grahs”) to a helpless opponent. You can also use a bow or crossbow, provided you are adjacent to the target.

You automatically hit and score a critical hit. If the defender survives the damage, he must make a Fortitude save DC 10 + damage dealt) or die. A rogue also gets her extra sneak attack damage against a helpless opponent when delivering a coup de grace.

Delivering a coup de grace provokes attacks of opportunity from threatening opponents.

You can’t deliver a coup de grace against a creature that is immune to critical hits. You can deliver a coup de grace against a creature with total concealment, but doing this requires two consecutive full-round actions (one to “find” the creature once you’ve determined what square it’s in, and one to deliver the coup de grace).

  • Your character has at least 7 level of magus, in order to have access to the spell Vampiric Touch (Magus 3) and for access to the magus Spellstrike special ability.

Spellstrike (Su)

At 2nd level, whenever a magus casts a spell with a range of “touch” from the magus spell list, he can deliver the spell through any weapon he is wielding as part of a melee attack. Instead of the free melee touch attack normally allowed to deliver the spell, a magus can make one free melee attack with his weapon (at his highest base attack bonus) as part of casting this spell. If successful, this melee attack deals its normal damage as well as the effects of the spell. If the magus makes this attack in concert with spell combat, this melee attack takes all the penalties accrued by spell combat melee attacks. This attack uses the weapon’s critical range (20, 19–20, or 18–20 and modified by the keen weapon property or similar effects), but the spell effect only deals ×2 damage on a successful critical hit, while the weapon damage uses its own critical modifier.

  • Your character uses a weapon to deliver its coup de grace as a melee attack, with the Vampiric touch.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Spellstrike won't work, since it works "whenever you cast a spell" and "as part of a melee attack", while Coup de Grace isn't an attack nor a spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – Gloweye
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 12:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Im not sure that is the case. It is however a full round action to coup de grace, and depending on your GM/DM you may need to be already holding the charge from a previous round. They wouldnt be able to coup de grace in the same round they cast the spell, but they can deliver the spell through their weapon in a later round along with the hit that is part of the full round of the coup de grace. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 15:11
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No... unless you use Coup De Grace. Then Vampiric Touch YES, Scorching Ray NO

Coup de grace is a full round action.
You would have to hold the spell from the previous round as Coup de grace is a full round action.
Unarmed strikes are considered light weapon attacks.
Any spell which requires an attack roll can cause a critical hit. (See "Spells and Critical Hits" under the Critical Hits combat section.)
Vampiric Touch requires an attack roll to affect the target, therefore it can critical hit.
Scorching Ray does not require an attack roll to affect the target(s), therefore it cannot do a critical hit.
Doing this process will follow the rules of both holding a spell and using a touch spell in combat.

Coup de grace makes the attack roll moot*.

(* Option: the Player could still choose the type of attack here. Either "Touch" or "Unarmed Strike" as "If you touch anything or anyone while holding a charge, even unintentionally, the spell discharges." implies the Unarmed strike would satisfy the "Touch" requirement of the spell.)

Option "Touch" would result in 4d6 Vampiric Touch damage (assuming a minimum caster level).

Option "Unarmed Strike" would result in (1d3+str)x2 Unarmed strike damage AND 4d6 Vampiric Touch damage (assuming a minimum caster level).

Hit 'em hard, suck 'em dry!

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