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Touch spells have the ability to Hold the Charge. Meaning that they can be cast ahead of time and then held onto for use whenever after without the need to speak the verbal components again or make the somatic gestures in a risky location.

This lends itself to underhanded dealings, such as assassinations (Poison, Shocking Grasp, etc) and kidnappings (Touch of Idiocy, Ghoul Touch, etc). So, this is fairly dangerous; someone can just reach over and shake your hand. BOOM you're a goner. Or are you?

  • Are their visual indicators that a spell's charge is being held?

  • If not, will it be detectable by Detect Magic? (It is neither a functioning spell or a magic item)

  • If not, how can you tell that someone is holding the charge on a touch spell?


I've also asked this question on Paizo's rules forum just now, with almost identical text. I am looking for a book-legal answer if one exists.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I added the rules-as-written and spells tags. Feel free to remove them if they don't work with your intended question. \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Jul 19 '16 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage Nah, you're on point. No worries. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jul 19 '16 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related and related. Also, why would holding the charge not be a functional spell? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 19 '16 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan It's effects are not "in effect". If the spell's function is to deal 1d2 CON damage every round, and it isn't dealing that damage, it isn't functioning. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jul 19 '16 at 22:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've not read things that way before. That sounds like enough to be at least the start of its own answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 19 '16 at 22:39
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Are their visual indicators that a spell's charge is being held?

If there's nothing in the manual is totally up to you, as a master.

  • Shocking Grasp could have a strong visual (sparks, lights, crackles)
  • Poison touch could alter the appearence of the finger to resemble a spider's leg, or a scorpion's sting
  • Touch of Idiocy could have no visual effect at all
  • ...

Decide this the first time the player casts the spell and be consistent with your choices.

If not, will it be detectable by Detect Magic? (It is neither a functioning spell or a magic item)

IMHO holding a spell touch attack should be treated like an ongoing spell so it should be detectable with detect magic like it should be dispelled with dispel magic or upon entering in an anti-magic field.

So detect magic should work.

If not, how can you tell that someone is holding the charge on a touch spell?

In this case I assume a spell without visual effect (ex. Touch of Idiocy) A way to determine if such an effect is active could be through a successful Knowledge(arcana/religion) or a Spellcraft check

from the PF d20 SRD:

Spellcraft is used whenever your knowledge and skill of the technical art of casting a spell or crafting a magic item comes into question. [...]

and

Identify a spell as it is being cast DC 15 + spell level

but that's for spells someone is casting; recognize an ongoing effect could be much more difficult (say DC 20 + spell level? 25 + spell level?)

Keep in mind that where the rules fall short, it's up to you setting up stuff but consistency is your primary objective as a DM.

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It may be obvious that a creature's holding a charge but not for the reasons one might expect

When a creature's holding a charge, Cast a Spell says

If you don't discharge the [touch] 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.

Emphasis and double emphasis mine. Onlookers can tell something's unusual about a creature holding a charge because that creature refuses to touch anything or anyone (except, y'know, enemies). Now, obviously, an extreme interpretation of this means pretty much never holding a charge: any held charge is expended almost instantly because folks can touch things with their mouths (so holding a charge means neither eating nor drinking), their butts (so no sitting, either), and their feet (so no walking), and do touch things with their whole bodies (so no wearing clothes). More likely, this should mean touch in the typical Pathfinder sense—that is, you must do the touching instead of something or someone else touching you—, but it seems, in this case, this kind of touching should be taken to some kind of extreme given how darn few ways there are for a creature to touch something unintentionally in the typical Pathfinder sense and the loud, pregnant warning in that description. (Note that identical vague language exists in D&D 3.5.)

So while the rules rarely address unintentionally touching anything or anyone, this rule exists, and the GM determines what this rule means and how far to take it. For example, the GM may rule that accidental discharge of a held charge can occur if the creature holding it doesn't have another feed him, clothe him, bathe him, open doors for him, and otherwise use its hands at all for him. (I'd argue things already in hand when a touch spell's cast won't set off a held charge but will if they're dropped and recovered, but ask your GM.)

In other words, if the drow ambassadress's unseen servant opens the door for her, have a peon shake her hand first.

Cast a Spell also says, "Touching an opponent with a touch spell is considered to be an armed attack and therefore does not provoke attacks of opportunity."

By one reading, then, the presence of even an undetectable held charge nonetheless, suddenly and inexplicably, sort of turns the crossbow-toting, robe-wearing beardy dude with the belt pouch full of poop and spiders into Bruce Lee. This is a less reliable means of detecting otherwise undetectable held charges because the holder needn't actually make attacks until he wants to, but when he does reach out his stinky, sticky hand to touch a foe and doing so doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity and there's no obvious reason he's not provoking attacks opportunity (e.g. he's apparently unarmed, he's assumed no hostile posture indicating the presence of the feat Improved Unarmed Strike if that's a thing in the GM's campaign), it's a pretty solid indicator of a held charge. That is, an attacker just can't fake having a held charge. (Can you imagine if folks could fake that, though? That'd be hilarious.)

"But spell effects are visible, right?"

Many spell effects that aren't called out as visible probably should be, but, technically, unless a spell says it has visible effects, it's only as visible as the GM says it is. Of course, some spells come out and say they're obvious, like the fireball spell's "searing explosion of flame that detonates with a low roar," and, more appropriately, like a chill touch spell's caster's "hand… glows with blue energy." But most spells—including touch spells—don't provide any guidance for their appearances. The spell shocking grasp, for instance, doesn't say it surrounds the caster's hands with comic book style lightning (although most assume it does because that's awesome), nor do subtler spells like touch of idiocy or imprisonment say anything of their visuals. (Yes, I've just called the spell imprisonment subtle—context is important here.)

Detecting a held charge using detect magic et al.

A touch spell that's cast and its charge held is a functioning spell. The rules for Magic on Duration has two relevant sections:

Touch Spells and Holding the Charge

In most cases, if you don't discharge a touch spell on the round you cast it, you can hold the charge (postpone the discharge of the spell) indefinitely. You can make touch attacks round after round until the spell is discharged. If you cast another spell, the touch spell dissipates.…

Discharge

Occasionally a spells lasts for a set duration or until triggered or discharged.

This makes holding a touch spell's charge an aspect of a spell's duration. While the charge is held, it counts as spell in place and a detect magic spell's caster on the third round of the detect magic spell's use in the area of a held charge can make a Knowledge (arcana) skill check to determine the school of the spell effect (DC 15 + spell level) and, if successful, then make a Knowledge (arcana) skill check (DC = 20 + spell level) to identify the spell effect in place. (Note that the spells arcane sight et al. are just better for doing this, though.)

So to learn if she's holding the charge of an imprisonment spell, use the spell greater arcane sight to scan the drow ambassadress.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The part about "a held spell turning you into Bruce Lee" is a little weird. The reason touch spells are considered armed attacks is because you don't have to properly hit/damage anything, since the spell will go off on so much as a light brush against the enemies clothing. It won't look anything like Bruce Lee. It's just a guy jabbing you with an outstretched finger. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 25 '16 at 9:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik RE: "The reason touch spells are considered armed attacks is because you don't have to properly hit/damage anything, since the spell will go off on so much as a light brush against the enemies clothing." Do you have a source for that? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 25 '16 at 15:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The start of your post. Accidental discharge on unintentional touch means it will go off the instant you touch something. Even if barely. "If you touch anything or anyone while holding a charge, even unintentionally, the spell discharges." \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 25 '16 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Fair enough. :-) So it's the absolute ease of making the touch attack that lends itself to not provoking and threatening an area? That could explain the former, but not really the latter. An otherwise unarmed creature can hold indefinitely a charge that has no visible effects and use that to help allies flank, for instance, and the same creature can't if it's not holding a charge. That is, if it's just 'cause it's easy to touch a dude that a creature holding a charge threatens, then everyone should always be threatening. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 25 '16 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would call that a short-coming of the flanking rules, because it relies on the non-flanked target completely ignoring the guy behind him on account of him not having a weapon, in a world where people can shoot fire from their fingertips. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 26 '16 at 11:28
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From Pathfinder SRD, "Touch spells in combat" :

If you don't discharge the spell in the round when you cast the spell, you can hold the charge indefinitely

The spell is actually cast and all the components requirements have been met. Normally, delivering the spell is a touch attack that is a free action that is part of casting the spell :

Many spells have a range of touch. To use these spells, you cast the spell and then touch the subject. In the same round that you cast the spell, you may also touch (or attempt to touch) as a free action.

Holding the charge is merely casting the spell but not touching anyone. Therefore any ability or spell that allows you to see magic detects a held charge.

As to whether or not it is visible without magic means, I'd say it's up to the GM depending on the spell.

On a somewhat unrelated note, know that you can deliver attacks of opportunity or flank while holding a charge, since you're considered armed.

"Armed" Unarmed Attacks: Sometimes a character's or creature's unarmed attack counts as an armed attack. A monk, a character with the Improved Unarmed Strike feat, a spellcaster delivering a touch attack spell, and a creature with natural physical weapons all count as being armed.

Note that being armed counts for both offense and defense (the character can make attacks of opportunity).

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Let's look at the rule text:

In most cases, if you don't discharge a touch spell on the round you cast it, you can hold the charge (postpone the discharge of the spell) indefinitely. You can make touch attacks round after round until the spell is discharged. If you cast another spell, the touch spell dissipates.

Well, that is pretty poor, however in the next section (about discharging a spell):

Occasionally a spells lasts for a set duration or until triggered or discharged.

We learn here that the spell is lasting while not yet discharged, which means it exists as a spell, so one should be able to see it (as long as you can see magic), dissipate it, etc, the same way it would be possible for any magic buff.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don’t buy that the second quote has anything to do with the first quote. The second quote is talking about spell durations, but a held charge has no duration and does not count toward the spell’s actual duration. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 20 '16 at 12:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note "or discharged". The quote is in a paragraph called "Discharge". \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jul 20 '16 at 12:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, within the duration section of the section explaining the spell format. And “discharge” is a term used for some spells’ durations in that format. I remain unconvinced that these two paragraphs have much to do with one another, and that in combination they imply what you claim. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 20 '16 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ The second quote is in regards to spells like Chill Touch with multiple charges. You can touch CL peoples-worth of enemies. The spell lasts until you spend all usages or cast another spell (funnily enough, it's not dismissable). \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jul 23 '16 at 15:29
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The question is twofold:

  1. What ways are there to detect a held contact spells?

  2. What other caveats are there for held contact spells?

Let's start with 2, as that is easier. First of all, the spell is cast to all but the finishing touch component already, so it might be (depending on GM opinion) rolled already. In that case, the achieved number (die + relevant modifier) has to be written down (possibly secretly by the GM?) and took note of, as the target still may roll their magic resistance or you might not overcome some other threshold. However, the mage can't know these beforehand, thus: note the number of the roll, and best even roll the spell secretly, though the rules don't provide this.

Then, the spell is kept by stopping just the second before finishing the spell. This means, technically you are still casting the spell. Doing anything while casting a spell can trigger concentration rolls that might force the magican to drop the spell.

Now, back to 1. The spell is mostly cast but for one component. There are ways to detect a spell in casting, and detect magic is one of them if I remember correctly.

Visual effects of spells in casting are usually more a fluff thing, but a GM might want to use them here to use them in conjunction with perception rolls - maybe a guard notices an odd shimmer or hands crackle with raw energy, but that is GM fiat.

edit: reworded for clarity

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I am not following what you’re saying about having already been rolled and a “success number” written down. Which rolls? What “success number?” I’m just not sure what you’re saying. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 20 '16 at 12:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ You have a deep misunderstanding of touch spells. The attack roll associated with touch spells is the actual unarmed attack roll needed to hit the target. It is an attack in the same way as a punch. As a monk, if you do not punch, you do not pre-make your next punch attack roll. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jul 23 '16 at 15:38

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