STOP! Hammer Time!
Hold Person is the spell for all those people who just cannot get their loved ones to sit still and listen to them, or for Bards to make sure their audience is paying attention, or even to make sure the patrons of that restaurant you work in don’t get away without tipping!
Most seriously, this is the spell for arcane and divine casters to halt their enemies dead and their tracks to either set them up for a perfect spell combo, for the rest of the party to dispatch them as they see fit or just talk their ears off for hours until they wished they could die of old age!
Hold Person Mechanics
Hold Person is a pretty potent spell, and one of those spells in Pathfinder that are affectionately, or hatefully referred to as “Save or Die” spells. Using it can immediately swing the whole fight in the favor of the person who cast it.
This makes it almost indispensable to a party of adventurers.
Hold Person Spell
First let’s take a look at the mechanics of the Hold Person spell itself.
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Components: V, S, F/DF (a small, straight piece of iron)
Range: medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Target: one humanoid creature
Duration: 1 round/level (D); see text
Saving Throw: Will negates; see text; Spell Resistance: yes
The subject becomes paralyzed and freezes in place. It is aware and breathes normally but cannot take any actions, even speech. Each round on its turn, the subject may attempt a new saving throw to end the effect. This is a full-round action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. A winged creature who is paralyzed cannot flap its wings and falls. A swimmer can’t swim and may drown.
Like the DJ always says on the dance floor: break it down now!
First off, the spell is only 1 standard action to cast, and it requires Verbal and Somatic Components as well as an Arcane Focus or Divine Focus. This means unless you have some metamagic prepped for it, you are going to need to be able to speak and gesture with your free hand.
Secondly, this spell may claim it is “medium” range, but at the 100 ft + 10 ft per level, you will most likely be able to hit the whole battlefield. I don’t know many Tabletop RPG skirmishes that operate at a scale where you will need to hit a target further than 50 squares away from you, and even then that is going to get even further as you level up.
The first real limitation we run into is that this spell can only affect one target at any given time. This means when you first get this spell, it can only really lock down one target in question at a time.
That can be overcome though! The later version of this spell is Mass Hold Person, which affects one or more creatures with the same spell, but they cannot be more than 30 ft apart from each other.
When the spell goes off, the target (or targets) of the spell will cause the target to be Paralyzed:
A paralyzed character is frozen in place and unable to move or act. A paralyzed character has effective Dexterity and Strength scores of 0 and is helpless, but can take purely mental actions. A winged creature flying in the air at the time that it becomes paralyzed cannot flap its wings and falls. A paralyzed swimmer can’t swim and may drown. A creature can move through a space occupied by a paralyzed creature—ally or not. Each square occupied by a paralyzed creature, however, counts as 2 squares to move through.
For the purposes of clarification, we should probably define Helpless as well.
A helpless character is paralyzed, held, bound, sleeping, unconscious, or otherwise completely at an opponent’s mercy. A helpless target is treated as having a Dexterity of 0 (–5 modifier). Melee attacks against a helpless target get a +4 bonus (equivalent to attacking a prone target). Ranged attacks get no special bonus against helpless targets. Rogues can sneak attack helpless targets.
As a full-round action, an enemy can use a melee weapon to deliver a coup de grace to a helpless foe. An enemy can also use a bow or crossbow, provided he is adjacent to the target. The attacker automatically hits and scores a critical hit. (A rogue also gets his sneak attack damage bonus against a helpless foe when delivering a coup de grace.) If the defender survives, he must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + damage dealt) or die. Delivering a coup de grace provokes attacks of opportunity.
Creatures that are immune to critical hits do not take critical damage, nor do they need to make Fortitude saves to avoid being killed by a coup de grace.
So a target affected by Hold Person is literally held at the Mercy of the Caster and his party until the spell ends or somehow the spell is broken.
That Duration is contingent on the level of the spell caster, and we will get into what the minimum caster levels have to be for this spell in the next section, but it is worth noting Hold Person is a 2nd level spell at minimum. This means the target is going to be affected for at least 1-2 rounds.
There are limitations on the spell to keep in mind.
Anything immune to enchantment or Mind-affecting effects will just ignore the spell completely. Also if the target has Spell Resistance, the caster will need to overcome that for the spell to affect the target.
The target can also resist the spell with a Will saving throw, the DC of which is 10 + the spell level (2 for regular Hold Person, 7 for Mass Hold Person) + your relevant casting ability for your class (Intelligence for the Wizard, Charisma for the Bard and Sorcerer, or Wisdom for the Cleric). They can try every turn they are under the spell’s effect to break free making that will save.
Who Gets the Spell
Of the Core Classes in Pathfinder, the Hold Person spell can be learned by four of them. Specifically it is on the spell list for the Bard, Cleric, Sorcerer, and the Wizard. Though it should be noted in general, that the Sorcerer and Wizard share the same spell list.
For the Bard and the Cleric, Hold Person is a 2nd level spell. While for the Sorcerer and Wizard it is a 3rd level spell. Mass Hold Person is only on the Sorcerer/Wizard list, and it is a 7th level spell.
The Bard gains 2nd level spells at level 4. The Cleric gains 2nd level spells at level 3. The Sorcerer gains 3rd level spells at level 6, and 7th level spells at 14. The Wizard gets 3rd level spells at 5th level, and 7th level spells at 13th level.
ALL THIS TO SAY! The Bard gets access to Hold Person at level 4, and the Cleric gets it at level 3. Sorcerers get Hold Person at level 6 and Mass Hold Person at level 14, while the Wizard will get Hold Person at level 5 and Mass Hold Person at 13.
Best and Creative Uses of Hold Person
All those mechs are good and helpful, but how can one best employ Hold Person?
One of the most important aspects of this spell is the Helpless condition as a part of Paralyze. Simply put, if the party has one target they need to focus on and bring down quickly, this is the spell to set off.
Do not be afraid to paralyze an enemy that is hard to hit so your melee characters can get bonuses to strike a blow against them. That is if they don’t have the time for a Coup de Grace. This can also let your party Rogue get that sweet sweet Sneak Attack damage in.
The last part of the spell description also gives a really great use for the spell as well. If your party is tangling with a flying opponent (specifically one using wings), hit them with a Hold Person spell to cause them to plummet.
Maybe they will take some Falling Damage as they impact, but even if they don’t you’ll have the chance to dogpile on them when they come down to your level (both literally and maybe metaphorically).
This can also be of use if you are under orders to bring in a Target Alive, or don’t want to hurt anyone. Freezing someone in place to keep them from running is a powerful tool.
A good Hold Person from the Bard or Cleric of Peace can stop a chase before it starts! You can explain the situation while they are held in place, or just take them to a more secure location if you need to “have a little chat” or have them “answer some questions” without the worry of being interrupted.
DM’s Notes About Hold Person
There are a few points that I want to hit on before closing from the perspective of the DM/GM/Game Runner.
Hold Person and Mass Hold Person are VERY powerful spells and will swing almost any encounter to the favor of whomever cast the spell.
Keep in mind that parties with these spells regularly available can start getting really dependent on them. They may start opening almost every encounter with a cast dropping one or more Hold Person spells, and then they just start “steamrolling” every encounter.
Don’t get mad! Get Even!
Start giving your monsters Spell Resistance or bumping their Will Saving throws. Give your PCs a chance to move beyond using Hold Person all the time, and help them push beyond just being Mr Freeze all the time.
The second point to make is to be careful when you wield Hold Person against the PCs.
Nothing is more frustrating than getting all of your options stripped from you and being at the mercy of an NPC. I’ve always had the ethos that taking away options from the Players is a surefire way to frustrate them and ruin the typical power fantasy of Pathfinder.
Make sure to illustrate that they can break out with a successful Will Save, and make sure to be VERY judicious if you have the enemy attack them. It could feel like you set them up for failure, and that can be VERY frustrating.
Though, it can put the fear of god in them if you do it right.
Be on your Guard, Pathfinders!