Friday, February 6, 2015

Some of The Best De-Buff Spells in Pathfinder

Magic is one of the most potent weapons in Pathfinder, but as the great and wise TreantMonk once said there are three types of spellcasters that will win the day for their party; the battlefield controller, the buffer, and the de-buffer. Today Improved Initiative is going to bring some spells to your attention that every de-buff lover should have on them at all times. You've never experienced true victory until the villain's attacks are rendered moot not because of the rogue's poison or the barbarian's greatsword, but because of the penalties you are forcing him to fight under.

These spells might not be the most debilitating out there, and they might not be the most powerful, but often the spells you use most won't be. Some of them ignore spell resistance, provide no saving throw, or offer a partial negative even on a successful save. Read the descriptions and I'll not only tell you what they do, but tell you why you should have them. Also, while they're separated by a single class make sure you check your class's spell list to see whether or not you gain access to them as well.

Also, if you're looking for even more de-buffs you might want to check out my Dirty Trick Master Character Build as well as this list of The Best Alchemical Items For Your Pathfinder Party.

Without Further Ado...

Look for touch of idiocy later on in the list...

Magus Spells

Frostbite (Ultimate Magic 221) [also Bloodrager, Druid, and Witch]

At first glance frostbite seems like your typical, low-level damage dealer. 1d6+1 point per level of non-lethal cold damage to the target. The spell also makes targets fatigued without a saving throw, meaning is a -2 to a lot of things, but it also shuts down a barbarian's rage immediately if they can't rage while fatigued. For that alone it's a good trick to have up your sleeve.

Snowball (Pathfinder Player Companion: People of The North) [also Druid, Sorcerer/Wizard, Summoner and Witch]

Your basic 1d6 per caster level (up to 5d6) this spell is useful since it ignores SR. Not only that but if you hit your target has to make a fortitude save or be staggered for 1 round. Ulfens don't fight fair.

Mudball (Advanced Race Guide) [also Druid, Sorcerer/Wizard, Witch]

You conjure a ball of mud that flies at a target's face, blinding it on a hit. On the target's turn it may make a Reflex save to shake off the mud, or use a standard action to wipe it away. This debuff is a delaying tactic, ensuring the target is blind for part of a round with the added benefit of making it waste its standard action to clear its vision if it fails the save. Not a bad spell for a wand, useful at low levels

Frigid Touch (Ultimate Magic 221) [also Bloodrager, Druid, Sorcerer/Wizard]

This spell deals 4d6 of cold damage, and it leaves your opponent staggered for 1 round with no will save (SR does apply). If you strike with a critical hit (something a magus with a keen scimitar has a good chance to do) then you will leave the enemy staggered for a minute instead. That can be a combat killer when you take away the enemy's ability to perform full round actions.

Wizard and Sorcerer Spells

Ray of Enfeeblement (Core Rulebook 329) [also Bloodrager, Magus, Witch]

A favorite of necromancers everywhere this spell fires a black ray at a target as a touch attack that will inflict a penalty equal to 1d6+1 per two caster levels, maxing out at 1d6+5. What makes this debuff so great is that even if the target saves they still take half of the penalty. So if you're a level 10 caster and roll minimum on the penalty, and they save that's still a -3 to strength. If they fail and you roll max that's a -11, which can be a combat ender right there if the target is depending on raw might to carry the day.

Touch of Gracelessness (Advanced Player's Guide 250) [also Bard and Bloodrager]

This spell is a lot like ray of enfeeblement, except that it's a touch attack and it reduces the target's dexterity. The target still takes half the penalty on a successful save, but if it fails then the target's flight skill is reduced by one step, and if it moves more than half its speed the target falls prone. Hilarity will ensue if you smack the target and then acrobatically tumble away only for it to fall down chasing you.

Color Spray (Core Rulebook 256) [also Bloodrager and Magus]

Every low-level party's friend, Color Spray is a cone that can leave your enemies stunned, unconscious, and blinded. At higher levels (if your enemies have 5HD or more) it will only stun them for a round, and since it's negated by a will save it's a good idea to pick up a wand of it at level one, use it up, and then move on to more practical de-buffs after level 5 or so.

Chill Touch (Core Rulebook 255) [also Bloodrager, Magus, and Witch]

This one is a favorite of magi who can deliver spells through their weapons. Every touch delivered does 1d6 of negative energy, and has the potential to deliver 1 point of strength damage. You get one touch per level, so if you've got even a halfway decent caster level you can reduce an enemy down to nothing in relatively short order. And even if you don't get the strength damage, you still get that extra d6 of negative energy. It's also handy for driving off undead.

Animate Rope (Core Rulebook 242) [also Bard and Artifice Domain]

This one often gets overlooked, but it can be a lifesaver for bards who drop their whips. As long as you can get a rope, or something rope-like, near an enemy you can render them entangled, or trip them. This is particularly nice for spellcasting foes, since in addition to the penalties that come with being entangled they have to make a concentration check to cast any spells. That can be a major life saver when the cleric of Zon Kuthon loses three spells because she's all tied up. It also allows no spell resistance, which is another great bonus.

Glitterdust (Core Rulebook 290) [also Bard, Bloodrager, Magus, Summoner, Witch]

Nothing can screw over a party faster than enemies that can become invisible at will, and there's nothing more embarrassing than being a high level party where no one can find the villain as he chips away at you. In addition to making your enemies David Bowie levels of fabulous, though, you've got a chance of blinding them. What makes glitterdust such a great de-buff spell is that it ignores spell resistance, which can be a life saver when SR keeps blocking your magic. That, and if there's a big enough group someone's going to fail the save.

Touch of Idiocy (Core Rulebook 360) [also Bloodrager and Witch]

This spell reduces your target's intelligence, wisdom, and charisma by 1d6. There's no saving throw (but there is spell resistance), but if you can slap this onto a wizard or cleric who's giving your party grief then you have just lowered the saves on that caster's spells, and you might get lucky and strip out some of their big guns. A definite necessity if you're ever going to fight enemies who need those stats.

Ray of Exhaustion (Core Rulebook 330) [also Bloodrager, Magus, Witch]

If you hit the target with a ranged touch attack and the target fails its save then it becomes immediately exhausted. If the target succeeds though it's still fatigued, which means that as long as you hit you still do something bad to the subject. Where this spell gets devious though is when you combine it with another effect (like frostbite) that makes the target fatigued already, because if a target is already fatigued and makes the fortitude save they still become exhausted thanks to this ray.

Enervation (Core Rulebook 277) [also Bloodrager, Witch, Loss and Undead Domain]

If you've never found a staff of necromancy in a dungeon then you don't know the sheer joy reducing your enemies by 1d4 levels can bring. There's no saving throw, which means all you have to do is penetrate spell resistance to start putting harsh negatives onto your foes.

Heatstroke (Pathfinder Player Companion: Sargava, The Lost Colony) [also Druid]

This spell operates just like ray of exhaustion, except that it does 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. A pretty snazzy addition for those who don't want to use necromancy, or who have bonuses for evocation magic that makes the save higher.

Fear (Core Rulebook 281) [also Antipaladin, Bard, Bloodrager, Inquisitor, Witch]

This cone makes creatures in it tremble in fear if they fail a will save. Even if they succeed they're still shaken for 1 round, which isn't a bad consolation prize if you're stacking negatives.

Calcific Touch (Advanced Player's Guide 208) [also Bloodrager]

Once per round (the duration is 1 round/level) you can deliver a touch attack that does 1d4 points of dexterity damage and slows the target. A fortitude save negates the slow, but if you keep slapping the target with this spell until its dexterity hits 0 it becomes permanently petrified.

Waves of Fatigue and Waves of Exhaustion (Core Rulebook 368) [also Witch and Toil Domain]

Both of these spells are cones that make targets in the area either fatigued or exhausted. What makes it particularly good is that there's no save versus these spells; just spell resistance. So if you know your enemies don't have SR and you need them debilitated quick, fast, and in a hurry these spells are ideal ways to accomplish that.

Icy Prison (Ultimate Magic 224)

You trap the target in ice that's 1 inch thick per caster level. On a successful reflex save the target is only entangled. It takes 1 point of cold damage per caster level every turn until it breaks free... so even if they make the save, they're still hobbled.

Resonating Word (Ultimate Magic 235) [also Bard]

This spell offers partial fortitude saves and SR, but it's a 3-round effect that does damage and leaves the target stunned on a failed save. Three separate saves for a single spell is pretty good, especially since you can cast this spell from over 100 feet away.

Prediction of Failure (Ultimate Magic 232) [also Witch]

If the target fails its save on this spell it is permanently shaken and sickened due to visions of every failure it will ever endure. Even if the subject succeeds it's still shaken and sickened for one round per level. Just to add insult to injury spellcasters who fail their saves gain a minor spellblight.

Irresistible Dance (Core Rulebook 303) [also Bard and Witch]

As the name implies this powerful spell makes a subject caper in place, taking a -4 to AC, taking away shield bonuses, imparting a -10 to reflex saves and provoking AOOs. It normally lasts 1d4+1 rounds, but if the target makes a will save it still has to caper for 1 round.

Polar Ray (Core Rulebook 323) [also Ice Domain]

The main reason to use polar ray is that it does a d6 of cold damage per caster level, but it also does 1d4 of dexterity drain. Yeah... the bad kind. No saving throw, but SR applies.

Cleric Spells

Sound Burst (Core Rulebook 346) [also Bard and Oracle]

Sound burst is a 10 foot radius burst that does sonic damage and might stun your opponents. It makes the list because unlike the spell shout sound burst does full damage even if your enemies save. If they don't, well, they're just standing around like gormless mooks for a round.

Prayer (Core Rulebook 325) [also Oracle, Inquisitor, Paladin]

You give all your allies a +1, and all your enemies a -1 in a 40 foot burst. There's no save, but it is affected by spell resistance. Sometimes it's the little bonuses/negatives that make the difference.

Aura of Doom (Ultimate Magic 207) [also Oracle]

This spell allows spell resistance and a will save, but as an aura effect it's worth the investment. Especially since if enemies leave the aura and come back they have to save again, and any enemies that fail the save are shaken. Shaken enemies are some of the best kinds of enemies, especially if you're going to cast more spells that have saves, because the enemies will take negatives.

Spit Venom (Ultimate Magic 240) [also Oracle, Druid, Witch]

You spit venom as a touch attack, and if you hit the target is blind for one round. That's a guaranteed condition. The target also has to save against black adder venom, or gain that poison and all of its negatives as well.

Terrible Remorse (Ultimate Magic 243) [also Bard, Oracle, Inquisitor, Sorcerer/Wizard]

You fill a creature with awful remorse for what its done. If it fails a will save then it's compelled to harm itself. Even if the creature saves it's paralyzed with sorrow, rendering it staggered and reducing its armor class by 2 for a round.

Debilitating Portent (Ultimate Combat 227) [also Witch]

The target is surrounded by a green aura, and every time it makes an attack or casts a spell it has to make a will save or deal half damage. The spell lasts for 1 round per level, and it can be dismissed as an immediate action to negate a critical hit scored by the target. The attack still happens, but it deals half damage like a regular attack.

Druid Spells

Tar Ball (Ultimate Magic 243)

Tar ball is one big glob of nastiness. You fling a burning ball of tar at an enemy (no save, no SR), and it deal 1d4 point of fire damage plus your strength modifier. It deals an additional 1d4 of fire damage for the next 1d4 rounds, and while it's in place the target has a -2 penalty to dexterity. The tar can be cooled with a DC 15 reflex save, or by pouring a gallon of a non-flammable liquid onto it. If you stop, drop, and roll you get a +2 on the reflex save.

Sirocco (Advanced Player's Guide 244) [also Magus, Sorcerer/Wizard, Storm Domain]

This spell creates a cylinder of furnace-hot wind that deals 4d6+1 point per caster level to creatures in the area. A successful save cuts the damage in half and means they aren't knocked prone, but all creatures who take damage become fatigued. It allows spell resistance, but if you want to give a whole bunch of characters a status condition, and nullify a raging horde, this is a good start.

Euphoric Tranquility (Advanced Player's Guide 219) [also Bard, Cleric, Oracle, Sorcerer/Wizard]

This spell puts a creature in a totally blissed-out state of being. It abhors violence and treats everyone as friends. If the creature is attacked it gets a save to act normally for a round, but if it fails will simply retreat. No initial save, though it does allow SR.

Bard Spells

Deafening Song Bolt (Advanced Player's Guide 214)

This evocation spell ignores spell resistance and offers no saving throw (two great things). It turns three notes into actual bolts, and when they strike a target each individual bolt does 3d10 damage. The recipient of a bolt is also deafened for 1d6 rounds, and that means penalties on initiative, 20% chance of spells with verbal components being miscast, etc., etc.

Stunning Finale (Advanced Player's Guide 247)

If you have a bardic performance in effect you can end it with a shocking flourish. This spell allows for spell resistance, but three targets who can see and hear the performance must make a fortitude save. On a failed save they're stunned for 1 round, and on a successful save they're still staggered for one round.

Inquisitor Spells

Castigate (Advanced Player's Guide 210)

This spell makes a living being cower and beg for forgiveness. It allows spell resistance, and a will save. On a failed save the creature cowers in fear. On a successful save it's shaken for a round. Every round it can try a new save, but if you're fighting something with a low will save it could be begging for quite some time.

Blistering Invective (Ultimate Combat 224) [also Alchemist and Bard]

You unleash personal vitriol so hateful that enemies who hear it actually catch fire. While being able to insult someone till they burn is useful, the spell also lets you make an intimidate check to demoralize all enemies within 30 feet of you. Being shaken is no mean thing, especially when you can do it without being within melee reach.

Paladin Spells

Fire of Entanglement (Advanced Player's Guide 221)

When you attack a foe you've used your smite evil on that creature is wreathed in flames that entangle it. If it starts its turn in a square adjacent to you it's considered stuck to you and can't move. The duration is one round per level, but if the creature makes a reflex save it's only entangled and stuck to you for one round. Still that's one round it can't fly away or leave that set of squares.

Witch Spells

Ill Omen (Ultimate Magic 229)

This spell makes your enemy roll a d20 twice and take the less favorable result. You get an addition double-die roll for every five levels. No saving throw, but if the enemy figures out what you did then he can take a move action to whisper a prayer of luck to negate a single double roll. Then again, that means no full-round actions, which is pretty good for you if you can get through the spell resistance.

Woo, That's A Lot of Magic

I'm not going to lie, this week's installment took a lot of book scouring. If you'd like to support Improved Initiative then why don't you go to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon Page (which is where I get my funding) and become a patron today! Also if you want to get all of my updates on the games you love make sure you're following me on Facebook and Tumblr!


  1. No love for "Blistering Invective" probably one of the best Alchemist Debuffs, make an intimidate check against all enemies in 30ft radius, and deal 1d10 fire damage to any who are then demoralised, before they make a Reflex save to avoid catching on fire, and while SR might protect against the Fire, it doesn't stop the demoralisation.

  2. This was very helpful. I'm playing in an evil party as a Cleric that's a primary buffer and secondary de-buffer with limited healing ability. As a buffer/de-buffer, I've single handedly saved the party by giving the entire party up to +5 on attack rolls, saves, ect. while making the enemy take penalties to their rolls. I don't do a single point of damage nor do I prepare and spells that do damage. If you can set aside the need to do damage in every fight, and focuse on keeping the party alive, you'll be the party's hero every time.

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