Magic Missile - good or bad choice?

Magic Missile - good or bad choice?

My apologies for any redundancy from prior discussions. Primarily desperate for some Pathfinder discussion.

Also, I happen to think Magic Missile is a good spell to have/use. Certainly not overpowered, but good.
While understandably due to it's low damage, some others in my playgroup feel it's not worth having/using.

I had thought to ask whether people felt it was overrated or underrated. But trying to get what people feel themselves rather than what they feel others feel seems the more direct way.

So -

1. Thumbs up or thumbs down on a wizard or sorcerer having / using Magic Missile?
I'm obviously a thumbs up. I'll give my reasons why.

2. Thumbs up or thumbs down on a (low to low-mid level) wizard or sorcerer purchasing a wand (or half amount of charges at half cost wand) of Magic Missile. (1 CL-Caster Level). ?
I'm a thumbs up here. Slightly different factors in play.

Overall I feel the "damage done" by any attack or spell should really be divided (or rather mutliplied by) it's percent chance to hit. So while Magic Missile (understandably for balance reasons) does not do a lot of damage. It (leaving aside Magic Resistance for now) has a 100% chance to hit. And damage is cumulative. You can keep doing damage across rounds and have it add up.

While say - Scorching Ray and other spells or melee / ranged attacks often have a half chance or worse chance to miss depending on the target and targeter. This has been crystalized for me several times during roleplay in games on this site. While the melee folks swing and miss for 2-3 rounds at a time. All of them missing for several rounds. So that 4-11 or 7-16 or so damage a melee character 'does' over 3 rounds. If it misses two times out of 3 on a stout enemy. Really is doing a third of what it is on paper. At best it's generally half damage for most attacks other than magic missile. And at least in our group, if we could have it actually roll out to be half - we would be doing much better than actually happens during combat. While 3 rounds of even a (1CL) wand of magic missle would be 3d4+3 (6-15).

That goes to both the 1 and 2. While good counterarguments on the 2 (wand) is that it's cutting into money that could be spent on a magic weapon, etc. I do think though that ensuring the caster doesn't have to pass or not have much to do other than pass. And can instead be 'plinking' away at an elite enemy is very worthwhile. It may take several rounds. And you may not be the damage that takes it down or did the most. But you are very likely to take out especially an elite enemy one or more rounds sooner, and perhaps before it kills one, several, or all of the party if you are consistently putting some damage up on it every round. Even if at mid to late levels, you likely should have enough spells not to need it.

Another great benefit of Magic Missile is that it basically gets past the caster not having Point Blank and Precise Shot and taking a -4 to hit a target involved in melee that they cannot afford to give up. Even touch and ranged touch spells for casters end up with about a half chance or worse to hit due to low BAB and usually low dex (and/or no weapon finesse feat taken to use).

More for non-wand discussion. A wizard can take Toppling Spell with Magical Lineage for no higher spell slot and have it at a good chance to knock down. As it is level of caster (not spell level) + Int modifier. And a Sorcerer (and wizard) can put two feats (School focus, Spell focus) and a trait (more for sorcerer as I think Magical Lineage is better for Magic Missile specialized Wizard) of Magical Adept (I believe) and at 1st level you are doing 2d4+2(or 3 if Evoker Wizard) and at 2nd level 3d4+3(4). With or without about a half chance of knockdown depending on the target. (If you go that route. You will cap out at 5 missiles as soon as 6th level rather than 9 for sorcerer. And potentially at 7th level for Wizard. Though if you have Magical Lineage you can take the MetaMagic -[Intensified Spell] for no spell level bump (1-1) to add up to 5 more levels of damage. Too bad Metamagic does not work well for sorcerers. Oh well, having the sorcerer versatility is very good too.)

Unlike with fire damage, there's not a lot of force resistance out there. Mid to late levels there may be some things immune to magic missle or with magic resistance, but you generally are good for many levels and will have other options by that time.

That's my take. Would love to hear/see if others agree or disagree and their Pathfinder thoughts on it.

1. Thumbs up or down on Magic Missile being a good/worthwhile spell? (I agree Grease, Color Spray, etc can rock.)
2. Thumbs up or down on purchase of Wand of Magic Missle (or half wand - which I might personally prefer)?

And finally - I can certainly understand for those who have played a lot of wizards/sorcerers already - that magic missile is 'old hat' for you. I am playing my first wizard and sorcerer myself, so the old hat feels new and effective for me for now.

Play on. And thanks in advance for any thoughtful feedback.

It sounds like your plans involve investing a lot of resources to make a mediocre spell good.

Though I do agree the probability to hit should be included when doing any kind of statistical analysis of the efficacy of an attack, I also recognize that (more importantly) it is almost impossible to calculate to-hit chances due to the lack of a "standard" AC.

I think your statistical analyses on hitting (such as hitting only half of the time against a stout opponent) are pretty flawed. Yes, it is possible for three melee PCs to miss for three rounds straight, but that is not the norm. Using such an extreme example does not validate the use of one spell or another. Your analysis should include typical performance of magic missile vs. typical performance of those other attacks.

I have seen a battle where a scorching ray wand needing only a natural 8+ on the d20 to hit missed five consecutive times. There is less than a 1% chance of that happening. That is not a fair comparison of the power of that spell vs. magic missile. In those same five attacks, a CL3 magic missile would have delivered on average 35 hp damage (5*7 hp average damage). The scorching ray, on average, would have done an average of 45.5 hp damage (5*.65 chance to hit*14 hp averarage damage). Cherry picking statistical outliers does not boost the average, over time, performance of magic missile.

In a low level party, color spray and sleep can be encounter ending spells. Grease can control the battlefield, or hamper a specific opponent, for an entire combat, and can greatly increase the efficiency of other player's attacks. If I were designing a low level wizard or sorcerer, those are the types of spells I would invest my finite resources into. Magic missile, on the other hand, will typically only slowly drain the hp of a single opponent, and will do nothing to help the wizard or sorcerer's teammates, in those same encounters.

Thanks for the feedback, appreciate it. I agree with a lot of what you said.

I'm putting you down as a thumbs down on both.

I certainly agree that color spray and sleep can have significant impacts and I've seen them end encounters or basically end them. I've seen Grease and the previous two wielded very well to great effect. The benefit to the other party member's attack against a prone defender from Grease is a great point. (As is the even more significant benefit of attacking an unconscious opponent. ) Those may very well be a 'better' choice. Or a more 'optimized' choice. Especially perhaps for a sorcerer who can choose among them. And who may choose from among Magic Missile as one option should those not appear to be effective in the situation.

I intended to present a half chance to hit as roughly the norm for other attacks, with the extreme examples serving to help back that up. Not to be considered a 'norm'. I did not intend to present the cherry picking as the average. But rather what 'can' happen to show some of the stability of Magic Missile and that 1/2 may me about accurate or even a conservative estimate. And I think it is pretty close to right most of the time, rather than 'pretty flawed'. And perhaps somewhere between 1/2 to 1/3rd is generally accurate from what I've seen. +4, +5, +6 is pretty good for a 1-3 level attacker to have going for themselves. While 14, 15, 16 and up to 18 or so is not uncommon for a moderate to elite opponent's AC. Sometimes flanking is not available or very difficult to set up.

Your statistical analysis on scorching ray is more precise and better effort than my eyeballing estimates, but at least a little off as a 2nd level sorcerer as I outlined would be at CL5 for Magic Missile by level 2. While a Wizard would be at CL5 by level 3 and be adding in a chance to knock the target prone (either right away or by level 3) and with a +1 to damage if an Evoker. And all of this - including the scorching ray example- does not take into account the very likelihood of line of sight or cover issues and the target getting involved in melee soon and the caster taking a -4 without Precise Shot. Or issues of trying to get a clear cone or burst area for Sleep or Color Spray if your allies are engaged and possibly flanking the opponent.

While I didn't intend for this to be a discussion of whether Sleep, Grease, Color Spray are 'better'. As they are other good options, as sorcerers have very few spells known, wizards have to pick, and with opportunity cost - of course that is part of the discussion. And I don't necessarily disagree that those may make for a better caster.

I guess I had intended to get feedback from others on whether Magic Missile - based on other's experience - was a bad choice, not necessarily the 'best'. I will concede there will be scenarios where other choices work - or could/might work - better. Though in other cases all Magic Missiles would.

I'm not certain if what I was intending to ask was "Would a Magic Missile based wiz/sor be seen as a party hindrance/drag by others?" ... but it may be closer to what I intended than "Is it the optimized build?" I will admit that the prior spells may be more of an optimized build. I'm going on my first arcane caster and just trying to get a sense for myself of how I feel/think about Magic Missile in action (haven't really gotten there yet). If all the resources invested do/did indeed move a remarkable chance to hit but low damage (and overall 'mediocre') spell to the 'good'. (And possibly even great with some rolls or in some comparative scenarios.) I believe I would be ok with that.

One other factor in addition is attributes. Whereas a high point buy or high roll or very Int/Cha focused arcane caster can easily have a high modifier to the saves of Grease, Color Spray, Sleep, etc. A low point buy, low rolls, or a less focused character could easily be a 2 or more less on their save modifier. Whereas that is less a worry for Magic Missile.

Again thanks for the constructive feedback, statistical work, past experience, and thoughts. Good to have some other thoughts and chance for discussion. Appreciate you. Play on.

If your analysis is going to add so many resources in the form of feats and traits to the magic missile, then to be fair to other spells you need to add similar resources to them.

It might not be your intention, but it sounds more and more like you are asking if it is possible to expend a ton of resources to make a mediocre spell really good. I guess it is. However, it is possible those same resources could be better spent making the overall character really good.

You are also neglecting to consider there are two easy counters for magic missile. Shield negates it. Brooch of shielding gives a respite against the spell. If a player invested that much into a single spell, then those to fixes are much more minor solutions for wily GMs to send your way. The point being not that one spell is more easily negated than another, but that specializing so heavily in one thing would make it harder to recover once it is nullified.

Thanks again for the feeback.

I would think if a wily GM wants to, they can beat any one character. Just about however it is built. And about the time those such things might be less than rare for enemies, there would be other spells to add to the mix. I'm certainly not advocating taking Magic Missiles as all your 3rd level spells and seeing how that works out.

You do make a good point. And that would be a risk of such a build. Though I think Magic Missile has some of its own defenses to some things that can frustrate some other spells. As compared to flying/oozing creatures being immune (somewhat) to Grease (crawling or otherwise having bonus to save vs fall), Undead or some others (or just too much melee from companions) giving trouble to Color Spray, fire resistance vs fire based spells, etc.

For a sorcerer I would want some 'backup' offensive spell. And something for a wizard, if possible.

Again, a good point that 2 feats and a trait (and possibly metamagic feat(s) for wizard) could be better spent on Improved Initiative, Toughness, etc for a more well-rounded caster. And perhaps a better caster overall. (A lot of casters seem to go with School Focus for obvious reasons...)

Was looking for some thoughts from others. And you have provided many good ones. Including some I had not considered and some I likely have not put enough weight to in considering. Thanks. Good stuff for me to consider and keep in mind. Appreciate it.

It's not a very good spell, plain and simple. I think that most of the time you could justify using the spell as a good option, you likely could pick other spells that would have had a greater impact on the fight. The one redeeming quality about the spell is that it's a guaranteed hit. Unfortunately, the damage is poor for classes that have access to spells that have a much greater impact on the fight, directly and indirectly.

I know you are not trying to compare the value of the spell vs. other spells, but it's hard not to given that the classes that have access to the spell are required to make choices in their spell selection. Caster classes are not set up to become quality damage dealers in Pathfinder. I understand that you can go that route, but you most likely were better off being a fighter. One thing you are not factoring into is the fact that you are doing very poor damage, having the worst hit points in the game, not being able to wear armor, and having a terrible combat maneuver defense. Being able to do 3.5 damage per missile, on average, with those limitations is reason enough for me to not go that route. Defensively, I am a liability, so I am not going to pretend that I can compete with the warrior classes in damage. My best option in helping out the group is by using spells that can alter a fight, and magic missile can't.

Also, you are investing multiple feats/traits in taking a bad spell and making it somewhat useful. Those are feats/traits that you now don't have to help with some of the limitations of the class, or that could have been used on better spells, of which there are many.

All classes are capable of doing damage, and it's painfully obvious that some classes do it better than others. However, there is no other class that has a variety of options like the arcane casters are capable of. The wizard is considered, arguably, the greatest class in the game not because of its ability to do damage, but because they have access to spells that change the landscape of the fight. A single spell can literally end the fight, and that's a very realistic possibility even at level 1.

Yes, if you stack feats/traits and/or spend gold on buying wands, it might be a better option than what you currently have access to, but I would rather spend those resources on making spells that are still better even more so. Take your current idea and apply it to other spells, and I think you'll see just how badly the spell is outclassed. If you're set on being a blaster caster, I suppose it's a way of justifying using the spell, but it's certainly not a route I would go.

Two thumbs way down for each.

And thanks for your input. Appreciate it. I agree with much of what you said. Also that you really do have to compare to some other spells due to opportunity cost.

I do wonder if one of the spells you mentioned the Wizard can cast that ends a fight with one spell is Fireball. As this one does so by doing damage.

A wizard or sorcerer may not be able to do damage in every fight to every minion the way a fighter can. But if you can Daze or use bloodline spells or abilities, or wands, or other 0 level spells and the party can otherwise deal with minions. You can nail a 'boss' or elite enemy with a lot of damage over a few to several rounds with some souped up Magic Missiles. And that can end that fight vs that enemy much sooner than it would have otherwise ended. Perhaps saving the party in the process.

I will agree that going straightforward blaster caster may not be optimized. And I've got two sets of two thumbs down for feedback from others. I do think it can be valuable if used well. Not sure if I will be able to do so, but wanting to try. Thanks again for your input. Game on.

One thing I briefly mentioned but didn't really flesh out enough was this -
"More for non-wand discussion. A wizard can take Toppling Spell with Magical Lineage for no higher spell slot and have it at a good chance to knock down. As it is level of caster (not spell level) + Int modifier."

This allows some control and a chance to knock prone tagged onto some definite damage from the spell. As it is caster level, not spell level - it will get better over time. It is vs the target's CMD. Some targets you would rather it be vs Reflex (comparing to Grease) while others CMD would be better. And it might work (or not) vs some targets that some other control type spells might not work on. (Grease not allowing Spell Resistance (understandably so) is very rockin' I will agree with that.)

Not only that, but it can be used to try and knock prone more than one target. You don't get a bonus to the 'trip' attempt for having all your Toppling missiles hit one target (other than more damage) but you can spread all of them out and get a trip check with your Int modifier plus your caster level vs all the targets CMD that each missile hits. Which could be 2 missiles at level 1 or 3 at 3rd level, etc. (If you go School and Spell Specialization Magic Missile.) A chance for some battlefield control, decreased AC for your party attackers to swing at, and attacks of opportunity along with 'gauranteed' damage (there are no guarantees, but pretty close.)

I had one person I discussed it with in person respond that Toppling Spell made Magic Missile seem 'potentially worth it'.

Not saying Toppling Spell makes Magic Missile the 'best arcane 1st level spell ever', but I do think it makes it competitive and worth a try / consideration / re-consideration. (Now if only Sorcerers didn't take a full round to cast spells with MetaMagic feats attached. Oh well - Sorcerers have some cool versatility and just plain coolness in their own right.)

Magic Missile is always useful, and something any arcane caster should have in reserve IMO.

If you are low level or planning to use it with feats that cause effects then you should prepare it. (While this is a 3.5 example, I have had great success in using fell drain magic missiles, and found a 3rd party feat that let me add 1d4 Int damage to each missile, which just about knocked anything unconscious)

If you want Magic Missile for a reliable damage backup at higher levels, you should probably splurge for a wand and save your 1st level spells for party buffs or control spells, as by that point 5d4 will be a pittance to most heavy enemies, and a control spell might not give them the benefit of a saving roll. Even if that isn't the case, the party melee fighter can probably end up doing much more damage over time after an Enlarge Person spell.

My two cents:

A first level sorceror should always take this spell. You basically become a sniper, and need to target the very small, very fast, or very armoured opponents. Obviously, buffs / debuffs / control should be important, but this IS a weapon in your arsenal. At low levels, enemies don't have a lot of hitpoints, so this becomes a good 'finishing move' for very wounded creatures or fleeing opponents. Wizards do not have the spells to spare.

At mid-levels, a wand of magic missile is less expensive than a +1 crossbow, but you need to use it wisely. Again, tactically sound combat options. Perhaps look into the little bit of extra money for the CL 3 or 5, and if you expect to use it once or twice per combat it will pay for itself. As your Sorceror, without spending feats (which, again, are better off on Toughness etc. though I will accept Spell Penetration as a possibility) you are still putting out effective - though not gamebreaking - damage. Let's face it, you've got seven level one spells, and Mage Armour lasts an hour per level.

High levels? Well, you're never going to cast a 1st level damage spell to target an enemy - it's a waste of a round. MAYBE use Ray of Enfeeblement

Last, but not least, smart enemies will spend one round to cast 'Shield' to get the +4 to AC for the rest of the combat, and then your spell is useless. By the way - if you build a mage to deal damage, you're better off becoming an archer.


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