House Rules Musing: Mega Super Accurate Fireballs

I don’t know about you, but it always seems a little bit odd that spells such as fireball detonate in the precise spot the caster desires. Sometimes, I’ve even seen players move the detonation point when they discover they’ve accidentally caught a friend in the area of affect! Surely spellcasters shouldn’t have that level of precision?

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


I don’t know about you, but that’s never seemed right to me. Given that spellcasters need to hit with many other spells – ray of frost, scorching ray, disintegrate and more – it makes sense they should also have to make an attack roll to get spells like fireball to land/detonate/originate exactly where they want. After all, combat is chaotic – combatants could easily get in the way of a spell’s trajectory or distract a spellcaster at the vital moment.

Thus, I suggest the following house rule.

Attack: To place a spell on a desired intersection, make a ranged touch against AC 5. If the intersection is adjacent to a combatant, the spellcaster suffers a -4 penalty to this attack roll as it is deemed to be in combat. Additionally, if the intersection has cover from the spellcaster, apply the cover bonus in the normal fashion. You can’t target a grid intersection occupied by a creature or one that has total cover from you.

  • Hit! You hit the desired location and the spell effects occur as normal.
  • Critical Hit: On a confirmed critical hit, every target in the spell’s area of affect suffers a -2 penalty made to resist the spell’s effect.
  • Miss: On a miss, you still cast the spell but it does not hit the intended location. Rather, it deviates in the same fashion as a splash weapon. Roll 1d8 to determine the direction in which the spell deviates, with 1 falling short (off-target in a straight line toward you) and 2 through 8 rotating around the target intersection on a clockwise direction. If the spell has a short range, it deviates 1 square. If the spell has a medium range, it deviates 1-2 squares. If the spell has a long range, it deviates 1-3 squares. After you determine where the spell lands, determine its area of affect as normal.

This rule makes spellcasters slightly less effective in that they can’t guarantee exactly where their spells will strike. This means, their companions may suffer or that their spells may miss their target entirely. I like the extra level of uncertainty this adds to combat, so for me this isn’t a problem. It means the party may have to come up with slightly different battle tactics; fighters may have to wait for the wizard to cast fireball or web before charging into battle!

I should note, I wouldn’t think of instigating this rule in mid-campaign; it’s something we’d use in the future from the start of a new campaign or one-shot. Ultimately it’s up to the GM to determine which spells this house rules affects. Fireball, for example, seems eminently suited to it, while lightning bolt is a bad fit.

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What do you think?

Does this house rule work for you? Do you hate it? Let me know what you think, in the comments below.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

18 thoughts on “House Rules Musing: Mega Super Accurate Fireballs”

  1. While my inner wizard goes giddy at the thought of critting with a fireball, I think this would be more work than it’s worth, especially since, by the time they hit level 5 and can *cast* fireball, few self respecting wizards could actually miss a ranged touch vs AC5 (high dex; init rúles!).
    The -4 penalty seems off, as you’re aiming at the (pasive) ground and *really* have no reason to try and be carefull about hitting anyone, the reasoning behind that -4 penalty’s existance. (if you had reason to to becarefull you would not be centering a fireball there).
    As for realism, I always explained this particular bit with the wizard’s superior intellect: most adventuring wizards have a base int of 18, which roughly corresponds to an IQ of 180 (since 10 is average and so is IQ100). With brains like that, coupled with the excellent incentive of actually staying alive, I would think it’d be easy to learn pinpointing your target really well.
    Anywat, ymmv 🙂

    1. Thanks for commenting, Maya. I’m not sure it’s a given the wizard would have high Dex (unless you use a point buy system – although I agree that high Init modifier rules). I’m pondering the in combat -4 penalty as I see you point. While I take your point AC 9, though, assuming the intersection had cover is slightly trickier. At 5th-level the wizard might have +5 on the attack roll so AC 9 is still not a given. Of course, at higher levels it all becomes moot.

      1. Granted, not everyone uses point-buy -though even with rolling I’d assign the 2 2nd best rolls to con and dex unless even that was not allowed. So in general I would expect a wizard to have at least halfway decent dex.
        Using cover I could live with -provided the spot I want to hit actually HAS cover; it should not be a blanket to-hit penalty. And again, given how easy it often is to avoid cover by centering the fireball in mid-air, I suspect it’s more work than it’s worth -plus it just adds an extra variable without, I think, actually adressing your issue 🙂
        Personally, I think if you want it to make harder to hit only intended targets, it might be better to take a step back to ADND and have the fireball be an actual firy explosion of x volume. Boom 🙂

  2. I plan to be starting a new campaign very soon, I like this idea and if the players are happy with it I’ll be giving it a go!

  3. Nah, I let them put them exactly where the spells says they can and if they start dropping them in the middle of the “friendly fire zone” then it is on the player. Over the years, I had a rogue and wizard who adventured together for a long time and the wizard learned that the rogue could pretty much dodge anything (evasion) so he started targeting the rogue as his person of choice for most reflex based AOE spells. Meta: yes, but with a solid background in play.

  4. I totally dig this houserule. We always played that if a fireball caster had to fit it in a tight space then it was a DC 5 Dex check. Generally I give my players 15 seconds to figure out what intersection they want to place their fireball

  5. I agree with Maya, touch attack against AC 5 at fifth level is a nuisance roll — even with Dex 10 a fifth-level wizard fails only on a natural 1 or 2. One level later (and presumably from then on, assuming ‘natural 1 always fails’) he will only have a 5% chance of having to determine actual landing point.

    I also agree that the -4 penalty for ‘in melee’ isn’t warranted. That penalty is there to avoid hitting the wrong person (I use cover/concealment rules instead). If I’m using fireball I’m not that discriminate, and honestly, I don’t much care if the fireball lands next to my target or hits him in the face — ‘targeting a point’ is an artifact of the game mechanics.

    However, regarding the high-Int-explains-it, what about sorcerers? Do they persuade the fireball to land where they want? 🙂

  6. If you read the discription of fireball it says that a seed is fired from your finger and travels in a straight line and as soon as it strikes a surface it explodes. I would say this includes an enemy or friendly target. SO to have the fire ball hit exactly where you want it to you will have to be above them.

  7. First off keep up the good work. I enjoy several Paizo, Rite Publishing, and Kobold Press products (Hooray for Kickstarter! Can you say Deep Magic?)
    This house rule wouldn’t work for me and I wouldn’t advise it. My reasons…

    1. I am looking for ways to reduce the number of dice rolls not add to it. This would just add another layer of dice rolls and drag out combat further. Also a wizard can’t cast fireball until 5th level. A DC range of 5 to 9 isn’t worth the extra rolls, since the caster is going to hit the vast majority of the time. By the time a caster hits 7th level how hard is it to hit AC 5 to 9?

    2. A fighter doesn’t have a limited number of uses of his sword or battle axe but the spellcaster only has so many spells.

    3. Most spells that you have to roll to hit for either doesn’t allow the target a save or allows the target a save for a reduced effect. (Don’t get me started on why Disintegrate sucks! LOL).

    4. If you were dealing with a campaign that had wild magic or magic in flux, this house rule might apply but I would increase the DC, and make it a spellcraft check. Say, DC 15 + Double the level of the spell+ Situation modifiers.

    Enjoying your blog and thanks.

    1. Troy, I’d completely forgotten about wild magic. You off the cuff comment took me way back to the old Tome of Magic! Thanks so much! I really must dust off my rod of wonder…

      1. There are a lot of great alternate Rod’s of Wonder out there too! Love the old Tome of Magic:)

  8. Seems excessive. Fireball doesn’t need to hit because it is a huge effect. Think of the difference of a ray. First it is a tiny beam. Second it is hitting a (potentially) moving target. A fireball may be a small bead but the detonation can happen anywhere in that 5×5 square and not just in the real estate of a body. Does hitting an area exactly center of that space make it harder to resist? Why would it? If anything I would say you could add an attack roll to hit a target and if so then they get a harder dc (questionable though since most attack rolls are lower damage and have no save or a very specific effect).

    You are also forgetting one simple fact: these characters are very skilled at what they do. In the case of a wizard it should take absolutely nothing to establish exactly where to place a fireball so it could end in front of their friend’s nose. These are characters who have extreme intelligence or have an innate talent for such things. Distance and placement are things people can have a pretty solid idea of without being a genius to begin with.

    Oh and it adds a die roll with the potential of failure. There are already plenty of ways to punish a wizard for doing something evil; you don’t need to add one more to help then do it to themselves.

    Just my two copper.

  9. Only times where i would have ask for targeting were times when the said fireball seed on the weay to target had to pass some tight spaces – small window, half-closed doors, firing slot in crenelations, etc.

    I remember the old anecdotical story of “exploding shack” – basically the wizard was cought sitting in outhouse when the orcs attacked the inn they were staying. So wizard peers out thry keyhole, sees opposition and decides to fireball orcs in front of inn and shack. But opening doors would demask his position and make him dead quite fast. so he asks, if he could fire thry keyhole. GM asks for the attack roll, as it is a qute tight fit for bean. Wizard rolls and gets “1”…. Lets skip the rest…

  10. If you want to lay down an area of effect spell with precision I require a spellcraft check at a DC of at least 15 and it increases depending on the amount of movement on the battlefield and what you are trying to do, I have often asked for a 25 or even 30 spellcraft check for extremely precise AOE layouts.

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