Tactical School Lesson #2–How to Use Disintegrate

Disintegrate, oh how I love thee.  I am so fond of it, let me compose a haiku in its honor

“Ode to Disintegrate” by Trask

my enemies die

when green death strikes them

more foes I do desire

Disintegrate, simply put, is the classic spell. Nothing screams “I AM A BADASS CASTER” like turning your enemies into a pile of dust. Although todays lesson focuses on the d20 version of disintegrate, any spell that can vaporize people or items qualifies.

Here is a quick review from the SRD.

A thin, green ray springs from your pointing finger. You must make a successful ranged touch attack to hit. Any creature struck by the ray takes 2d6 points of damage per caster level (to a maximum of 40d6). Any creature reduced to 0 or fewer hit points by this spell is entirely disintegrated, leaving behind only a trace of fine dust. A disintegrated creature’s equipment is unaffected.

When used against an object, the ray simply disintegrates as much as one 10-foot cube of nonliving matter. Thus, the spell disintegrates only part of any very large object or structure targeted. The ray affects even objects constructed entirely of force, such as forceful hand or a wall of force, but not magical effects such as a globe of invulnerability or an antimagic field.

A creature or object that makes a successful Fortitude save is partially affected, taking only 5d6 points of damage. If this damage reduces the creature or object to 0 or fewer hit points, it is entirely disintegrated.

Only the first creature or object struck can be affected; that is, the ray affects only one target per casting.

Everyone knows what disintegrate does, but few know how to use it correctly. I speak primarily of target choices.

Common usage involves shooting a low fortitude save NPC with it. Casters are particularly vulnerable to this attack. Problem is that many of them know this and take measures to “beef up” their fortitude save. Using it against a fighter or barbarian is a waste.  At higher levels, they usually only fail on a one. Trask has a far better use for this lovely spell.

Battlefield control.

Stop thinking of disintegrate as an offensive weapon and start thinking of it as a “terrain modifier.” In the SRD, I can think of no other spell that actually lets you remove parts of the battlefield.

Here are some of my personal favorites:

1. Pits are fun

Aim at the  square under a medium fighter. You only need to hit AC 10 to target a specific square.  The fighter recieves no save, since he is not attacked.  Any magical defenses that are active rarely protect the floor at your feet.  The floor, as an unattended item, does not get a save. Four squares of real estate become a 10-foot pit.  I usually give the fighter a reflex save, but some DMs do not. Even if he makes it, charging is impeded. Should the victim fail, he is at the bottom of a 10-foot hole with perfectly smooth walls. The climb check is, oh wait, look what I found under the climb skill.

A perfectly smooth, flat, vertical surface cannot be climbed.

Time to break out that potion of spider climb. You just tied up a fighter for 2 rounds, perhaps more with no save by the victim. Good times.

Bonus Carnage: have a druid create enough water to flood the pit. Nothing says “die” like swimming in full plate!

2. We do not need no stinkin’ door

Magor, the mighty magician locked his room up tight. An indestructible door bars the way. It cannot be picked, knocked or otherwise bypassed. Things look bleak for our heroes.

Until they disintegrate the wall next to the door. Even a magic door needs hinges to stay up.

3. Do you think the building needed that big support pillar in the middle?

Bring the castle down! Sappers dig tunnels under a castle to bring down a wall, you can wave your hand and save some digging.  Fair warning, messing with the underlying structure of a building can get you squashed, but it some cases it can really mess up the bad guys. Collapsing bridges, towers, building and dungeon hallways can be the difference between life and death. Hopefully their death and your ongoing life.

4. Yonder lies the key to open the demon gate! I shall get it before you. Muwahha! —Evil NPC

Unless the DM gives said item “DM protection” just make it go poof. Hard to summon demons with a pile of powder. Remember, no save for unattended items. You can also target equipment on an NPC or a PC. Great for frying spell component bags, for those times you want to take prisoners. As for PC uses, removing ropes, bindings or even soverign glue are good uses, just don’t fire into a grapple! Don’t forget wagon wheels too!

Bonus Carnage: Targeting the rope of someone climbing. It gets a save, but just think of the look on his face if he fails the save.  Not great tactics, but damn entertaining.

I hope that you can see the myriad of uses for disintegrate.  The ability to alter terrain is a powerful and often overlooked use of this spell.  Use it wisely and you will be victorious!

If you any other ideas or think my tactics came from a crackerjack box, feel free to leave a comment.

Trask, the Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.