Guidance – Alex’s Top 10: Worst Sorcerer/Wizard Spells

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about Alex’s Top 10 Worst Spells on the Sorcerer/Wizard Spell List.

If I’m going to praise the sorcerer/wizard spell list, then I ought to slam it too, huh? This week is the Top 10 worst spells on the Sorcerer/Wizard Spell List!

#10 — Paragon Surge

We’ve all heard the horror stories about this spell. Humorously enough, the Pathfinder Design Team had to create a specific FAQ about abilities that make choices because of this spell (although this FAQ would later prove useful because it would provide the framework for the martial flexibility class feature). To be fair, we have a GM NPC in our jungle campaign who uses this spell to great effect; we ask the GM for a spell to help us out and he paragon surges for it. Is it balanced? Heck no. Is it convenient? Yes, which is why its low on this list.

#9 — Twilight Knife

I get where this spell is going with its description and flavor-wise, it sounds cool and thematic. But let’s stop and think for a second: it’s using MY base attack bonus. I’M a wizard. My base attack bonus is TERRIBLE. Sure, it’s using my Intelligence instead of my Strength to hit, but is that REALLY going to make this dagger have a ghost of a chance at hitting someone? The dagger has no enhancement bonus, no real additional way to hit anything, and it’s a 3rd level spell. No, this is not going to work. Use my caster level as my BAB, note that it can’t take the full attack action, do something to make this spell’s attack more reliable. It’s good that bloodragers got this spell on their spell list, but I always found it weird that magi didn’t get it as well. You’d think that they’d want a spell that essentially conjures a flanking buddy for them.

#8 — Fins to Feet

On a conceptual level, this is a neat spell. We need magic like this if we’re going to enact The Little Mermaid in our Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, after all. This spell does, however, have several problems. First, it doesn’t last NEARLY long enough for me to allow my fish-tailed princess to stay on dry land for three whole days, but hey, there are magic items and metamagic feats for that. This isn’t the problem with fins to feet. The REAL problem is that this spell is a 3rd level spell. Disguise person, which changes my appearance, is a 1st level spell. Alter self, which changes me into any humanoid that I want, including ones with a tail or without one, is also a 1st level spell. So the ability to selectively change one part of my body, my tail, into a pair of feet is a 3rd Level spell? Why? This should have honestly been a 1st level spell; its far too weak for what it does compared to other spells at the same level.

#7 — Crafter’s Fortune / Crafter’s Curse

Okay, I’ll admit, when I’m min-maxing a magic item crafter I love Crafter’s Fortune, but why do these two spells have to exist? Who the heck is going to ever cast Crafter’s Curse anyway? In every scenario that I can imagine crafter’s curse being useful, I have to go out of my way to make it a useful spell; otherwise its not a spell that any PC or character is ever going to consider casting. These spells should have been a single spell, fickle fortune, allowing the caster to choose how it affects the target. Also, why are these spells transmutation magic? Shouldn’t they be divination because they involve fortune?

#6 — Flare Burst

This spell is essentially a 10-foot area attack version of the cantrip, flare. Flare inflicts your target with the dazzled condition unless it succeeds on a Fortitude save. So when we’re looking at flare burst, remember this: DC 11 + Casting Ability Mod in order to inflict a –1 penalty on attack rolls and Perception checks. Most of the monsters that we don’t want attacking us (the ones with high attack bonuses) also have high Fortitude saves, and for most enemies, a –1 is a pittance when they regularly need 6s and 7s to hit an average PC with an attack. There are much better spells that you could be casting to defend yourself, even at 1st level. For example, mage armor. +4 to your AC is four times better than a –1 on their attack bonuses. Shield is better than this. Stunning barrier is better than this. Plenty of 1st-level options that are better than flare burst, which is only truly effective when you’re fighting a large number of monsters with a poor Fortitude save. When does THAT ever happen?

#5 — Ghostly Disguise

This spell effectively makes you look translucent. Apparently that’s a powerful enough effect that it deserves to be its own, separate spell from disguise self or disguise other. Except you know, it’s a 2nd level spell, which means that its on the same spell level as ACTUALLY turning invisible or ACTUALLY phasing out between the planes. This is a perfect example of a spell that hyper specializes too much; it attempts to allow you to do something that should have already been covered by an existing spell, but since that existing spell doesn’t directly say you can do the thing, a new spell was made.

#4 — Mirror Polish

What the heck is the point of a spell that polishes something to be as shiny as mirror? More importantly, why is a spell effect like this a 1st-level spell? Okay, I understand that Paizo doesn’t like creating cantrips because the wizard class says that they get all arcane cantrips for free (why no one ever considered amending that one, measly line is beyond me), but seriously, a spell that polishes stuff to be so shiny that you can use it as a mirror? That’s like a standard use of prestidigitation. That isn’t a 1st level spell, people.

#3 — Polymorph Familiar

This spell was clearly designed by someone who doesn’t understand how the share spells ability works. Essentially, this spell allows you to polymorph your familiar into another animal as if you had cast beast shape I. The problem? Polymorph familiar is a 3rd level spell, just like beast shape I, and all familiars have a special ability called share spells, that allows a spellcaster to cast spells with a range of personal on their familiar as a touch spell. In essence, you can already cast beast shape I on your familiar if you can cast beast shape I. As a shaman or witch spell, polymorph fmailiar isn’t terrible (neither class has beast shape I on their spell list without outside meddling via the patron spells or spirit magic class features), but including the sorcerer and wizard in on this spell is pointless; beast shape I is better every single time.

#2 — Blood Money

You know why this spell is on this list; because its too darn powerful. This spell essentially allows you to hurt yourself in the form of hit point and Strength damage to “create” the material components for spellcasting. What’s wrong with this spell is that A) Strength damage is easily curable, B) so it hit point damage, and C) nothing s stopping you from curing yourself. This spell looks a campaign’s economy square in the eyes and tells it to go toss itself in a ditch. It is a terrible, terrible spell.

#1 — Dispel Magic

Oh, how I loathe this spell. Not because its too strong, mind you. Its quite the opposite. If you’re a player, this is the ULTIMATE trap spell, because it’ll never do what you want. Ever. You see, the sad truth about dispel magic is that nine times out of ten, that boss creature that you’re battling will have a higher caster level then you, the mage will. That higher CR is to justify it as a solo boss monster or whatever. But the caster level check required by dispel magic is designed so you have a 50% chance of success if you’re attempting to dispel something that’s the SAME level that you. This means that most spellcasters you fight will have a caster level that’s high enough that you’ll only have a 35% chance to dispel their spells or so. And there’s NO way in the game currently that’ll allow you to specialize in dispelling magic or get better at it. So ultimately, one of the most iconic spells in the game ends up flopping for you most of the time. Hard.

And that’s my list of the Top 10 Worst Spells on the Sorcerer/Wizard spell list. Some are too strong, some are laughably week, but all of them almost never see play at my table, either because no one will take them or because they’re banned. What do you think? What spells would you have put on this list? Care to defend any of my choices? Leave your answers and comments below, and I’ll see you on Friday with an all-new Iconic Design. Take care!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex’s favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune adept.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC. If you like Alex's writing and are interested in supporting him while getting professional-quality material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game while doing so, check out the Everyman Gaming, LLC catalog, which is listed under Rogue Genius Games at the following locations: http://drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6101/Rogue-Genius-Games/subcategory/19574_25289/Everyman-Gaming-Catalog

7 Comments

  1. As I tend to be ok with some of your analysis, I disagree on some points!

    Twilight knife must be considered as really situational against low-armored targets, don’t forget it also does sneak attack damage. Plus it’s force damage, so no protection due to being incorporeal.

    Crafter’s fortune/curse should stay as 1st level. Why ? Because it gives a huge (+5) non-usual (luck) bonus to the Craft check. Making it modal would have given it too much power (even though being situational as it helps with/against crafting) for a 1st level, and the bonus should’ve been reduced to compensate and keep the spell at 1st.
    Who would cast it ? Wizards with a thing for Crafting. Sorcerers are baseline bad at crafting things.

    Ghostly disguise’s not a good spell, true, but it looks like it’s been made more for RP reasons. I would totally see a high-Cha character try to impersonate someone important’s ghost after making people believe that person is dead.

    Blood money allows a caster to ditch his spell component pouch, again for RP reasons. Thematically, a Zon-Kuthon believer who would like to take that spell would be perfectly in character.

    And for dispel magic… It’s definitely not a bad spell. The current influence of video games in which every dispel magic spell automatically succeeds does not reflect the point of a real dispel magic spell. I’m clearly ok with the fact you only have 50% chance to successfully dispel something cast by a same-level caster. I mean, if you’re as powerful as someone, it should reflect a 50% chance to win.
    There are still ways to increase that check, by increasing your caster level, a few feats and class abilities do it too.
    Don’t forget that a basic dispel magic can dispell even a 9th-level spell as easily as another. And the effect tries to target high-level spells before any other.

  2. Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

    Least favorite spells? Ones I *have* to have as a Wizard/Sorcerer. Haste, Teleport, Create Pit-line, Glitterdust, etc. Spells that are powerful enough, or so useful that I’d be stupid not to take them. There are certain spells I take, despite prevailing logic, simply because I fricken love them, Explosive Runes being one of them.

    But others? I hate that I know I have to take it or I’m pretty much seen as a failure as a Wizard. I hate it even worse that I judge other arcane casters by whether or not they took those spells, even though I know I hate having to take them too.

  3. I find Twilight Knife works well for my Eldritch Knight. Especially Toppling Twilight Knife.

  4. I don’t play PFS, I agree with darrell that some spells are boring because they are too good. I tend to pick my spells thematically and avoid power considerations.

  5. This spell is fantastic for a Magus. I used Magus Arcana: Spell Blending to add this to my Magus spell list and it’s probably the best thing to ever happen. At level 12, it does 3d6 sneak attack damage and it even has greater chance to hit than me as it uses my intelligence mod (+6) as opposed to my strength (+5) so with my BAB, it has a 17/12 attack bonus. This really has no place on the Wizard list, and I really wish that it had been on Magus spell list to begin with instead of having to use spell blending

  6. Polymorph Familiar is quite a bit better than you think: it’s (short) ranged instead of the touch limitation on share spells, and scales with your level. Burning a 3rd level spell to turn your familiar (who is already flanking the target) into a Chimera is totally worth it.

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