Cancer Mages (from The Book of Vile Darkness) gain these two abilities:

Contagion: ... The touch of a cancer mage carries a contagion spell ...
Poison: ... the touch of a cancer mage carries a poison spell ...
(Source: Book of Vile Darkness, pgs. 52 - 53).

Both seem to be effects that take place when a cancer mage touches someone.

So the question - can a cancer mage use both abilities (attempting to both use contagion and poison on a single target) with a single touch?


The effects do not take place "when a cancer mage touches someone." The contagion and poison are spell-like abilities, and the "touch" bit simply refers to the touch range of the spells mimicked. The text on spell-like abilities states:

A spell-like ability takes the same amount of time to complete as the spell that it mimics (usually 1 standard action) unless otherwise stated.

You would need to spend an individual standard action to activate each effect. You can't even try to hold the charge, since you can only do so for one spell at a time (to avoid this exact situation when a mage pre-casts a bunch of effects and the high-fives someone to hit them with a bunch of debuffs).

  • \$\begingroup\$ The spell flower spell does allow holding multiple charges; might be worth mentioning. Might not work with Sp or Su abilities though. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 25 '16 at 3:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Spell flower almost seems to imply you can't hold a charge with an SLA at all: "[the caster] could also use any of her spell-like or supernatural abilities, since those do not interfere with holding the charge." \$\endgroup\$
    – SPavel
    Feb 25 '16 at 3:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you please add a citation for where to find that rule? I've been out of 3.5 for so long I can't even fathom where to look. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 25 '16 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Holding the charge is covered under touch spells in combat. There's another bit to the rules under duration that says if your touch attack misses, the use isn't wasted and you can keep trying to hit and discharge the spell. \$\endgroup\$
    – SPavel
    Feb 25 '16 at 19:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Might be better to weave the rule citations into the answer since comments tend to get deleted. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mala
    Feb 26 '16 at 8:30

You would require a Feat in order to use both in the same round.

You would need Quicken Spell-Like Ability so that you could cast one spell-like ability as a free action, and then use the other as a standard action. You would still need to touch the target twice - once for each spell-like ability.

Reference Information

A spell-like ability is just like casting a spell. In this case, the spell-like abilities require a standard action to use. The touch attack would be considered a part of that standard action.

Contagion (Sp): Beginning at 2nd level, the touch of a cancer mage carries a contagion spell once per day per class level. The DC for the target's saving throw is 13 + the cancer mage's Wisdom modifier.

Poison (Sp): Once per day per class level beginning at 3rd level, the touch of a cancer mage carries a poison spell. The DC for the target's saving throw is 14 + the cancer mage's Wisdom modifier.

(Sp) = Spell-Like Abilities: Usually, a spell-like ability works just like the spell of that name. A few spell-like abilities are unique; these are explained in the text where they are described.

Additional Commentary

The "strength" of a Cancer Mage is not its spell-like abilities. The "strength" of the Cancer Mage is getting the benefits of a diseases, and not suffering the consequences of a disease, due to:

Disease Host (Ex): At 1st level, a cancer mage suffers no ill effects of diseases, except for purely cosmetic ones such as boils, pockmarks, watery eyes, blackened skin, hair loss, foul smell, and so on.

Notice I put quotation marks around the word strength. Cancer Mages are infamously known for cheese in the way of possibly extremely high strength scores. I do not know of any DM's, including myself, that don't either ban the Cancer Mage outright, or houserule limitations on the benefits of diseases, such as:

Festering Anger: Each day after the onset of this malady, the character takes 1d3 points of consitution damage, but she gains a cumulative +2 enhancement bonus to strength.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Note that only by DM fiat is a creature infected with the disease festering anger. That is, the disease isn't contagious, and the creature may contract the malady after at least a year of being constantly angry at something. A cancer mage is much more likely to optimize the disease vile rigidity (still BV) for a nigh-infinite bonus to natural armor. In a campaign without those two diseases, cancer mage is just kind of meh. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 25 '16 at 18:12

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