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Whenever I have fireball or a similar AoE effect prepared I usually end up not using it all day. The reasons are that it is hard to use without harming allies or "wasting" the AoE effect on single targets.

I assume it is probably intended that Fireball is hard to use, since it is so powerful. But how do I use it as effectively as possible, in particular without harming my allies?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for feats, class features, etc that will allow you to fireball an area with allies without harming them, or tactics for using fireball in general without hitting your allies? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Mar 26 '16 at 2:38
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Go First

Do you have the Improved Initiative feat? If you take the first move in the combat, you can throw your fireball before your allies get mixed up with your enemies.

Use Metamagic

Feats such as Sculpt Spell will let you reshape an area spell, giving you more control over what it hits. The "four ten-foot cubes" option is particularly flexible.

In one game, one of my players was a warmage who threw sculpted fireballs all the time, and it was very effective.

Talk To Your Allies

Make sure your allies understand when you've got a fireball ready. After the monsters move, say something like: "guys, I'm thinking I might throw a fireball at those four monsters, please don't move into that area". If someone forgets, give them a polite reminder: "I'm planning to throw a fireball in that area, are you sure you want to move there?"

I once played a 4e wizard who relied heavily on area attacks. The party got used to it -- they'd be moving and I'd say "uh, maybe not that square?" and they'd go somewhere else instead.


I don't have a ton of experience of high-level play, but it may be worth mentioning: many people believe that direct-damage spells such as fireball are not the best use of a wizard's time (in 3.5e and Pathfinder). Monster hp and defenses scale up much faster than fireball damage, so your direct-damage spells will eventually look really inferior compared to other classes of spells. The treantmonk wizard guide has more on this philosophy. (The linked guide is for Pathfinder but websearch can find you similar guides for 3.5e.)

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Dan B already mentioned the Sculpt Spell metamagic feat, so I won't talk about it. There are several other possibilities.

Take a level of Archmage.

In my estimation, there is not much reason for a character who meets the prerequisites not to multiclass as an archmage. Spells per day increase as if the player had stuck to their previous arcane spellcasting class, and the class can choose from various potent abilities. In any case, among these is Mastery of Shaping, which in exchange for one 6th-level spell slot will allow the archmage to designate 5 foot cubes that are exempt from the effects of an area spell. Thus you can exclude as many allies as you want, and include as many enemies as you want. Indeed, this works quite well in combination with Sculpt Spell. In addition, any shapeable spells have a minimum dimension of 5 feet, basically meaning that a character can cast a fireball that fills only an enemy's space.

In order to take a level in archmage, a character must be able to cast 7th-level spells, among numerous other prerequisites, so this is not for all players, or low-level games.

Give your allies immunity, protection, or resistance

The spell protection from energy is 3rd level for sorcerers or wizards. It can absorb 12 points of damage per level from, say, fire: equivalent to the maximum damage from two fireballs. You can cast this on a few allies, in order to be able to cast area spells while they are brawling with enemies without much trouble. Just be sure you know ahead of time which type of energy you will be employing.

Selective Spell

If you are willing to employ feats from the rulebook Shining South, the Selective Spell feat allows for one creature to be excluded from the effects of an area spell. One advantage of this over even Master of Shaping is that it lets you cast a fireball at grappling creatures and harm only your enemy.

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An answer by Bryan E. Johnson on the question "How to limit magical friendly fire risks during a fight" is the Spellguard ring (p. 127 of Complete Mage).

"This pair of rings allows a spellcaster to designate an temporarily immune to his magic."

This will only protect one person, but it is very useful to burn everything to a crisp around a beefy melee class.

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