Strike a Match (Melee Casters and the Art of Gish)

Races of the Lost Spheres - Bloodborn ©2015 Lost Spheres Publishing, Artist: Dio Mahesa

Races of the Lost Spheres – Bloodborn ©2015 Lost Spheres Publishing, Artist: Dio Mahesa

A user in the Paizo forums recently lamented that they were having difficulty with the concept of a non-hybrid (no magus, warpriest, etc…) melee-focused caster. They lamented the dilema of buffs to be effective vs. contribution to conflict and felt that if they took the time to be effective, they failed to carry their weight in combat. So how then can they best be effective melee-oriented mage, cleric or druid? Today we will look at ways that gish combat can be made easier and more effective.

Tips for Playing Gish-Casters

To understand how to effectively run a gish-style caster we need to consider how differ from core melee classes. So to start talking about the martial casters we need to look at the differences between martial classes and core casters. In general we see that:

  • Martials Hit More: High BAB and combat oriented stats generally results in higher frequency, higher damage strikes.
  • Martials Get Missed More: Better armor options and less needs for magic items allows them to focus more on defense items.
  • Martials Survive More Wounds: Higher HP means that martial casters can survive more hits.
  • More Melee Class Features: Bonus feats, species enemy bonuses, and class features like Smite Evil all add to general combat effectiveness.

Now that we know our shortcomings compared to our martial friends we have a plan to “attack” our effectiveness problem.

  1. Hit More, Hit Easier, Hit Harder
    • Hit Easier – Touch Attacks: Wizards with touch attacks are probably more likely to hit than melee fighters. Consider spells that allow multiple touch attacks like chill touch to make use of this advantage over and over.
    • Hit More – Natural Attacks: Druids own this field with access to wild shape (one of the longest lasting shape changes in the game) but other decisions from racial attacks to wizard’s beast shape can grant more attacks per round than a fighter until eleventh level.
    • Hit More – Duration Buffs: Low level buffs are probably worth dropping like candy, the difference of a divine favor or bull’s strength are worth occasioally losing one to paranoia.
    • Hit More and Harder – Getting MAD: Multiple attribute dependency is the reality of the gish. A split caster with a higher Strength or Dexterity and finesse and moderate casting stat will be a better gish than a max’d stat caster. A permanent +2 to hit and damage will be hard to match with spells.
    • Hit More – Pets: Animal companions, summoned monsters, and even familiars can add attacks and even more importantly FLANKS. Flanking can make your BAB keep pace with other characters longer. Don’t discount the value of even a distracting animal. If they deal damage, even better. See this article on pounce, summoners and druids.
    • Hit HarderHigh Damage Spells: Spells that hit hard like shocking touch are solid choices for melee oriented wizards. A touch attack that deals 5d6 is like two hits from a fighter of comparable level.
    • Hit Easier and Harder – Tactics: Combat positioning, terrain, conditional modifiers… a gish character should understand these better than any other party member. They should creatively control terrain and other battlefield realities with spells and advocate for teamwork feats and group combat tatics.
  2. Get Missed More
    • Higher AC – Long Duration Buffs: Long duration AC buffs like mage armor and magic vestments are key to maintaining survivability in the melee arena. Run them often and prep them in multiples.
    • Get Missed – Miss Chances: Spells that grant miss chances are like having a second AC that attacks need to get through. Blur, blink and and entropic shield are off the charts for damage mitigation.
    • Higher AC – Shapechanges: As our above natural attack friend is also almost a natural armor friend. If you rely on weapons or other gear to be present consider monstrous physique as an alternative that still gives you many advantages.
  3. Survive
    • Survive – Temporary Hit Points: Both wizard and cleric have access to temporary hit point granting magic like aid or vampiric touch. Temporary hit points are often gained in lengthy durations.
    • Survive – Healing: Rely on off position rounds to heal and regain hit points. Use spells that grant fast healing or other triggered or non-action healing.
    • Survive – Casting on the Defensive: Consider feats like Combat Casting, caster level adjusting feats or traits and other similar ways to avoid attacks of opportunity from spell casting.
  4. Class Features
    • Domain Selection: Selection of Domains is key for clerics, taking advantage of benefits like those of War, Destruction or Animal,
    • Specialty School: Transmutation for stat augments or Conjuration combat positioning. These “minor” abilities can be amazing in tactical terms.
    • Bloodlines: These can be key to gaining natural attacks as noted in above, taking draconic or abyssal bloodlines.
    • Animal Companions: See Pets above. Druids and Oracles are shoe-ins for this and even Animal domain clerics can play.
    • Dip it good: A one level dip to a melee class can unlock features like unarmed strike, brawler’s martial flexibility and martial weapons while qualifying for possible prestige classes or taking pre-requisites with fighter bonus feats.

For the purposes of this article we are assuming relatively basic Paizo-Only sources. Tomorrow we will highlight some 3pp options that can take gish characters to new levels of equality in the melee front lines.

Speaking of new ideas for your melee characters? While not seven dire tigers strong, you can check out our pretty cool Pathfinder content at these fine vendors:, drivethruRPG, paizo and RPGNow.

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