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We have a player who wants to be a mesmerist, and we have been trying to decide if hypnotic stare would break Vanish, however most of the wording we have been able to find has been ambiguous at best, and we haven't seen too much on the way of a ruling in our search for answers. I would prefer RAW rulings and references to rules where applicable.

Would a mesmerist be able to use and trigger his stare (or any of his stare addons), without breaking vanish?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a note: the [rules-as-written] tag is for problems about pulling off unusual things while still staying within the strict rules as written. For plain rules questions, the name of the rules involved (in this case, Pathfinder) is the tag to use. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 4 '17 at 2:45
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Yes, hypnotic stare is an attack

Per page 208 of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook:

All offensive combat actions, even those that don't damage opponents, are considered attacks.

Thus, hypnotic stare would break the invisibility granted by the vanish spell.

On the RAW

Since you asked in particular for the RAW, I wanted to expand this answer to note some potential weirdness about it, and also to recommend that you and your group do not strictly adhere to the RAW, but consider some common-sense houserules regarding it. Here is the full passage regarding the definition of "attack."

All offensive combat actions, even those that don’t damage opponents, are considered attacks. Attempts to channel energy count as attacks if it would harm any creatures in the area. All spells that opponents resist with saving throws, that deal damage, or that otherwise harm or hamper subjects are attacks. Spells that summon monsters or other allies are not attacks because the spells themselves don’t harm anyone.

If adhering to the rules as written when implementing this passage in your game, you'll end up with some potential weirdness. While hypnotic stare likely wouldn't be affected, some things would be. For example, the magic missile spell could add a rogue's sneak attack damage to each of its missiles, or to a fireball, as magic missile is an attack, and sneak attack does not specify that it requires weapon attacks or attack rolls. It's a bit of an odd cascade of weird interactions.

The invisibility spell in D&D 3.5 used text like this in the spell itself to cover the scenario of non-attack-roll "attacks," but Pathfinder moved that passage to the general rules. I do not believe the game supports the use of this passage outside of interactions with the invisibility spell and similar effects, so I would discuss with your group how it should be applied.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1ed. I was unaware of that RAW analysis. Change a rule here, don't change a rule there. Darn you, Pathfinder! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Mar 4 '17 at 3:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ On Sneak Attack, the ability specifies that you must be able to "see the target well enough to pick out a vital spot and must be able to reach such a spot" implying that you need to be using a weapon and the Arcane Trickster level 10 ability specifically allows Sneak Attack on spells, implying that you couldn't apply it otherwise. Very interesting RAW misstep though. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Mar 4 '17 at 23:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ It does imply those things, but it doesn't state them. I don't see why you couldn't glare at a vital spot (since apparently it could work), and Arcane Trickster's ability is just useless if the RAW is adhered to. But in this case the RAW is super dumb so... \$\endgroup\$ – Forrestfire Mar 6 '17 at 16:36

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