Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to Increase Spell DCs in Pathfinder

There's nothing quite like playing a spellcaster in Pathfinder. With a wave of your hand and a whispered word you can set your enemies ablaze, re-order their minds, dominate their wills, or even make the dead walk. The problem that every spellcasting class is going to run into sooner or later though is the fact that some of the best spells come with a save DC. Whether it's a reflex save to cut your damage in half, or a will save to negate what you did in its entirety, if enemies make their saves often enough then that can really cut into how effective your actions are.

So why not set the bar as high as you possibly can?

Also I use Heighten Spell. Because screw you, that's why.
The problem is that unlike practically everything else in Pathfinder (like your armor class, your initiative score, or even your aid another bonus) it's really, really hard to jack up the save DC on your spells. That's why after scouring both books and databases Improved Initiative is here to help make sure your enemies fail their saves as often as possible.


It's important to begin at the beginning, and the first step after assigning your prime spellcasting stat (intelligence for wizards, witches, and magi, charisma for sorcerers, oracles, and bards; you get the idea) is to pick your traits. You get two of them at creation, and a select few of them will increase your spell DCs. The trick is that you can't pick two traits from the same area, and most of them are magic traits. So choose carefully!

- Domineering (Pathfinder Player Companion: Quests and Campaigns): Choose 1 first level enchantment spell and increase the DC by 1.
- Meticulous Concoction (Ultimate Campaign): Once per day add a +2 trait bonus to a bomb's DC, or extend the duration of an extract by 2 rounds.
- Overwhelming Beauty (Bastards of Golarion): Increase the DC of mind-affecting spells against creatures that share 1 of your subtypes.
- Strength Foretold (Ultimate Campaign): Once per day gain a +1 bonus to the DC of one of your bonus bloodline spells.
- Charming (Ultimate Campaign): Gain a +1 on any language-dependent spell you cast on a creature who could be sexually attracted to you.
- Insistent Benefactor (Pathfinder Society Primer): Gain a +2 to the save DC of any harmless spell, and gain a +2 on caster level checks to overcome spell resistance.

Racial Features

I get this from my mother's side of the family.
Some species are just better at casting certain spells than others. When magic's in your blood it helps to go with the flow. That's why players looking for a boost might consider:

- Kobold: Kobolds might not be taken seriously very often, but those with the Frightener ability gain a +1 racial bonus to the DC of all spells with the fear descriptor.
- Gnomes: Famed for their skill with illusions, gnomes with the Gnome Magic trait add a +1 racial bonus to the DC of any illusion spells they cast.
- Elves: Though elves are known as potent spellcasters, those with the Dreamspeaker trait are renowned for their divinations. Elves with this trait add a +1 trait bonus to the DC for all divination spells they cast, as well as to all sleep effects they create.
- Kitsune: A favorite among those who love exotic races, Kitsune with the Kitsune Magic ability add a +1 to the DC for any enchantment spell they cast. Additionally a Kitsune with sorcerer as her favored class may take +1/4 increased DC per level for enchantment spells as a favored class bonus.

There are more exotic races that get bonuses to their DCs, but this list is only for the races players shouldn't have to wheedle their DMs to play. If you can persuade your storyteller to give you a djinn though, by all means go right ahead!

Sorcerer Bloodlines, The Rage Prophet and The Arcanist

As I mentioned above boosting your spell DCs is not easy. That said, increased DCs on certain types of spells is one of the rewards those who are willing to choose specific sorcerer bloodlines can reap. It's also one of the benefits of playing an arcanist

No one wants to feel like this.
- Arcane (Core Rule Book): Whenever you apply a metamagic feat that increases a spell's level by 1 or more (except Heighten Spell) increase the spell's DC by +1.
- Boreal (Advanced Player's Guide): Boreal sorcerers cast cold spells at +1 DC
- Deep Earth (Advanced Player's Guide): Whenever you and your target are both underground increase your spell's save DC by +1.
- Div (Pathfinder Player Companion: People of the Sands): Those descended from corrupted djinn gain power from sowing pain. Whenever you deal damage to more than one creature with a spell that affects an area the DC of your spells increases by +1 for 1d4 rounds.
- Fey (Core Rule Book): Whenever a Fey sorcerer casts a spell from the compulsion subschool that spell's DC increases by +2.
- Infernal (Core Rule Book): Those whose ancestors made a deal with the devil cast any spell from the charm subschool at a +2 DC.
- Kobold (Advanced Race Guide): Opportunists of the first order, Kobolds excel at taking advantage of their foes. Any time an enemy would be denied its dexterity modifier to its armor class the DC of a Kobold bloodline sorcerer's spells against that target increases by +2 (I told you not to count them out).
- Stormborn (Advanced Player's Guide): Stormborn sorcerers cast all spells with the electricity or sonic descriptors with a +1 DC added to the saves.

In contrast to the sorcerer, the arcanist may expend points from his arcane reservoir to raise a spell's DC. This can only bring the DC up by +1 unless the arcanist also has the potent magic ability, in which case expending the single point from the reservoir raises the DC of the spell by +2.

Not only that, but if a player chooses the spell specialist variant of the arcanist then she gets to choose specialist spells. All of these spells are cast with bonuses, including a +1 to the DC.

Lastly for those who want to bring the pain in a divine way the rage prophet prestige class has an ability that can bring a lot of power to a spell. Ragecaster allows one of these prophets to add his or her constitution modifier to a spell's DC, assuming the spell is being cast during a rage while using the moment of clarity rage power. This can pack quite a wallop, especially if it's a spell that will end the fight if all of the enemies fail the saving throw.

Alchemical Power Components

Is there anything alchemical items can't do? Those who've read this list of great alchemical items know they're useful, but did you know that incorporating them into your spellcasting can increase the save DCs of certain spells? When used as a material component (and expended) the following items are quite useful indeed.

Klaatu, Verata, Napalm!
- Flash Powder (Adventurer's Armory): When used as a material component with a flare this powder increases the save DC by 2, and when used with pyrotechnics to create fireworks it increases the spell's DC by 1, and the blindness by a single round.
- Fiendgore Ungent (Advanced Race Guide): While unpleasant, this ungent increases the DC of fear spells cast by any tiefling or evil outsider by a +1 circumstance bonus for a full minute.
- Tanglefoot Bag (Core Rule Book): When used as a material component for a web spell it increased the escape DC to break free or to make an escape artist check by +1.
- Silver (Alchemy Manual): When used as a material component silver increases the DC to disbelieve illusion spells by +1.


As always the feat section is where the action is at for those looking to do the impossible. When it comes to packing the biggest magical punch there aren't a lot of options, but what there is will be completely necessary in your upcoming adventures.

Seriously, trust the bard on this one.
- Spell Focus (Core Rule Book 134): Cast all spells from a single school of magic with a +1 DC.
- Greater Spell Focus (Core Rule Book 125): Cast spells from the selected school at +1 DC; stacks with Spell Focus.
- Heighten Spell (Core Rule Book 126): This feat allows you to cast a lower level spell at a higher level, improving its DC as if it were a spell of the slot it's being cast at.
- Elemental Focus (Core Rule Book 122): Choose an energy type. All spells of that energy descriptor you cast gain +1 to their save DCs.
Greater Elemental Focus (Advanced Player's Guide): Same as Greater Spell Focus, but for your Elemental Focus.
Spell Perfection (Advanced Player's Guide): This one is a doozy requiring 15 ranks of Spellcraft and at least 3 metamagic feats. If you have that though you may pick one spell and modify it with a single metamagic feat without increasing its casting time or the slot it takes up. Lastly if you have feats that add numerical bonuses (Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus, Weapon Focus [Ray], etc.) then you double all of those bonuses for that one, specific spell.


While it might seem like something that would be common for spells to do, only one raises the DCs of other spells cast within its area of influence. Font of spirit magic, a 3rd level shaman spell, increases the caster level, concentration checks, and DCs of spells cast by allies within its area, and it lasts for concentration + 1 round per level.

Every Little Bit Helps

With relatively few opportunities to cast spells with a higher DC it's important to pick and choose your spells carefully. That means you need to take the right feats and carry the right components, but it also means you need to play your strengths against your enemies' weaknesses. Shambling undead likely have low reflex saves, which makes them a prime target for burning hands or fireball. On the other hand enemies that are quick might have lower will saves, making them good candidates for compulsion or illusion magic.

Lastly remember that it's hard to up your saves, but it's really easy to lower your enemies' saves. A simple tanglefoot bag will reduce their reflex saves, and a single intimidate check will leave an enemy shaken. Stack enough negatives onto the bad guy, and you've got an even better chance of your spell working like a charm (except better, since charms are notoriously hit-or-miss on effectiveness).

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  1. There are also ways to lower other people's saving throws, which amounts to almost the same thing. If you've got a Negotiator bard sporting riving strike and shouting durge of doom in your party, that's a big penalty to the enemy's saving throws against Illusions and charm spells.

    1. I can't seem to edit my comment; you mentioned lowering other people's saves, I was just trying to give an example of a method. The above negotiator bard is a character I want to play sometime, just to see what happens when the enemy's saving throws are decimated.

  2. Arcane Concordance, a 3rd-level Bard spell, also increases the DC's of spells cast within 10' by +1 (as an enhancement bonus) and allows for a select few metamagic feats to be added on to affected spells, as well.

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