Posts Tagged ‘magic’

Triple Solutions for Quadratic Wizards

January 1, 2013

One of the charges typically leveled against the wizard class is that it’s “quadratic” whereas the fighter (the typical baseline for classes that aren’t (full) spellcasters) is “linear.” What this usually means is that the fighter’s power (e.g. his combat potential) increases in a fairly small but steady increments over time, whereas the wizard’s power grows exponentially as they gain new spells.

Personally, I don’t think very much of those arguments. Like most armchair theory-crafting, this tends to focus on mechanical issues that look bad on paper – particularly when backed up by hypothetical game situations constructed specifically to aggrandize the “problem” under discussion – but aren’t really that bad in the course of actual play. Given that most players can’t even agree on what “balance” is, let alone how to achieve it, I think that the whole issue is overblown.


Don’t even bother rolling for initiative, bitch.

That said, it is a truism that wizards are more powerful than they were in previous editions. Now, this is true for all classes (and monsters, for that matter), but in the case of wizards and other spellcasters, I’ve noticed that while there are plenty of new powers and abilities added, there’s another factor here – the loss of the weaknesses that were once part-and-parcel of spellcasting.

That may sound odd, but back in earlier editions of the game, there were some pretty exacting limitations involved with casting a spell. All have been subsequently removed or toned down, allowing spellcasters to (as the alarmists have described it) dominate the game at high levels. Given that, the answer to this problem seems simple – we don’t need to power-up the melee classes even further, but rather need to reintroduce the previous limitations on spellcasters in general and wizards in particular.

Listed below are three variant rules that help to check the limits on what wizards and other spellcasters can do. Each of these rules works independently of the others, but taken together they sharply dial back on the power that spellcasters will have in your game.

Segmented Casting Times

Notwithstanding a handful of spells that take a full round to cast, casting a spell is always completed during your action on the initiative order. It doesn’t matter how powerful or intricate the spell, it’s something you can do in an instant, and unless someone readied an action or got an attack of opportunity on you (tsk, you didn’t cast defensively?), then there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

That’s not how it used to be though. Before, casting times had a numerical modifier that altered your initiative, so if you rolled an initiative of 14, for example, and cast a spell with a casting time of “3,” then while you’d start casting it on a 14 in the initiative count, it wouldn’t take effect until the initiative got to 11…which could result in disaster if that enemy orc got to go on a 12.

So how do we reintroduce this limitation in Pathfinder? Easily: When casting a spell, its casting time takes a number of round segments equal to the level of the spell. This is true for all spellcasters.

Now, there are number of caveats that need to be addressed for this. First, this only affects spells with a casting time of 1 standard action – spells that already take 1 full round or more keep their original casting time; no more is added. Likewise, spells with a much quicker casting time (e.g. a move, swift, or immediate action) keep their original casting times as well; those spells are designed to be cast quickly.

The verbal component for Charm Person.

The verbal component for Charm Person.

Secondly, this doesn’t change the action used in the round when the spellcaster takes his action. A fifth-level spell that has a listed casting time of 1 standard action will, under these rules, take 5 segments to complete…but on the wizard’s turn, he still needs to spend a standard action to begin casting the spell; he just then keeps doing so for another five segments of the round. Also note that he’s still casting during this time, and so any disruptions he suffers during this time can also cause him to lose the spell.

Thirdly, spells affected by metamagic use their effective level to determine their casting time. So casting a maximized fireball will take 6 segments of a round.

Utilizing “round segments” introduces some unique problems into the game. What happens, for example, if a wizard rolls an initiative of 3 but is casting a spell that requires 5 segments to cast under the above rules? Does it go off at 0? Or do round segments go to into negative numbers? Or should it roll over to the beginning of the next round, and if so, when is the “beginning” of the next round? Is it at the highest rolled initiative, or are there segments above that? Problems like these are corner cases, certainly, but they will eventually come up.

The best way to handle this is to denote that each combat round has a specific, set number of segments in it. A good rule of thumb is 40 (twice the range of the d20), which should allow for a wide range of initiatives without spreading the action times too thin. So all actions in a round take place during a count from 40 down to 0, with the higher numbers going first.

In the event that multiple characters act on the same initiative, then whomever has the higher Dexterity score is considered to go first; if two or more characters have the same Dexterity score, then their actions are performed simultaneously.

Similarly, characters that get extreme initiative rolls act on segment 40 (if they got an initiative result of 40+) or 0 (if they got an initiative result of 0 or less). In case multiple characters get results at such extremes, they all still act on that count, but the characters with the higher results go first (e.g. as though they got a tied initiative result, and the characters with the higher scores had a higher Dexterity).

So for example, if Dirk the Rogue rolled a modified 41 for his initiative score, and Dudley the Paladin rolled a modified 47 (both are point-whoring munchkins), both characters go on segment 40 of the round (the earliest it’s possible to go) but Dudley goes first, since he rolled a higher score. Likewise, if Boris the Bumbler rolled a modified -2 for his initiative, and Natasha the Nincompoop rolled a modified -4 for her initiative, then both would go on segment 0, but Boris would act first, since he had the better roll. Only if two or more characters’ modified initiative rolls are the same would they need to check who had the higher Dexterity.

So what happens in the case of casting spells that require more segments than are left in the round – such as the aforementioned wizard whose initiative is a 3 and is casting a spell with 5 initiative segments’ casting time? In such an instance, the casting time “rolls over” to the next round, and its remaining casting time is subtracted from the subsequent initiative count. In this case, that wizard would cast his spell on the next round at 39 in the initiative count. Note that this would not change the wizard’s order in the initiative, nor use up any of his actions on that subsequent round – it just takes the spell he cast last round that long to be completed.

One issue that needs to be dealt with using this rules variant is how magic items and spell-like abilities are treated.

For magic items – regardless of whether they’re spell trigger, spell completion, or command word-activated – it’s recommended that any magic item that requires activation be subject to the above casting times. So utilizing a wand of fireballs would have a segment modifier of 3, regardless of whether you were a wizard using it or a rogue activating it via Use Magic Device.

The reason for this is that removing the “casting time” from magic items makes them eclipse spellcasters, particularly at higher levels. Scrolls, wands, and staves become the weapons of choice for high-level spellcasters, with actual spellcasting being a disadvantageous fall-back option. Subjecting magic items to this restriction keeps them on par with spellcasting abilities.

It’s possible that you may find that having “casting times” for magic items to break verisimilitude. After all, when’s the last time you heard of someone leveling a wand at their enemy, speaking an eldritch command word…and then waiting awkwardly for a little bit until it unleashed its magic at them? This problem, however, is easier to solve than it appears. Remember that this is taking place during a six-second round. Dividing a period of six seconds into forty segments means that each segment is slightly less than one-sixth of a second. In that case, if your wand of fireballs needs 3 segments to activate once you’ve spoken the command word, it’s taking just under half-a-second to activate…is that really so long?

By contrast, for spell-like abilities, it’s recommended that you take the opposite tact; spell-like abilities shouldn’t require a casting time measured in round segments, instead requiring only the usual standard action (unless otherwise noted) to activate.

Why allow that? Mostly for metagame reasons – spell-like abilities are the province of monsters far and away more than they are for characters. Most monsters have a set “screen time” before they’re hacked apart by the PCs and are gone forever. Given that, it’s best that the monsters – especially “boss monsters” that appear by themselves as challenges for the entire party – be able to maximize their potential by using their powers successfully, rather than having canny PCs set things up to disrupt them with held actions (true, PCs will try to use this on enemy spellcasters too, but those NPCs shouldn’t be solo foes, making it much more fair game).

Again, there’s also a narrative reason for having spell-like abilities take effect much quicker than spellcasting. Spell-like abilities represent a direct connection to magic, a natural ability to tap into mystical power. Spellcasting, by contrast, is an unnatural ability to tap that same power; utilizing a set of verbal, somatic, and material components to kludge together the same power – of course it’s not going to work quite as well, hence the longer casting time.

Finally, remember that both of the above are just recommendations. If you want magic items that don’t require longer times to activate, or spell-like abilities that do require round segments to active, make them work that way in your game.

Disrupted Casting

Being hit while you’re attempting to cast a spell is bad, but if you can make your concentration check, it’s not a fatal problem; you’ve still gotten your spell off.

Prepare to taste eldritch doom and please don't hit me!

Prepare to taste eldritch doom and please don’t hit me!

That’s far and away more generous than how it used to be. Back in the day, if you took damage while casting a spell, that was it – kiss your spell goodbye.

Reintroducing this limitation for Pathfinder is simple: All concentration checks are considered to automatically fail. In other words, if your PC ends up in a situation where you’d have to make a concentration check because something happened, you instantly lose the spell – there’s no check or roll, it’s just gone. This may sound harsh, and it is, but there’s one offshoot to this particular variant that makes it slightly easier to swallow: casting a spell does not provoke an attack of opportunity.

This may draw some complaints that it’s too easy to lock spellcasters down – that grappling them or entangling them, or even ensuring that they’re caught in harsh weather or are subject to “vigorous motion” is enough to make them useless, let alone being damaged in combat. The answer to this is that that’s intentional – spellcasters gain great power, eventually, but the trade-off for that power is that it’s difficult to utilize, and causes them to rely on their more martial allies to protect and aid them so that they can get their spells cast.

One particular complaint regarding this particular variant is that the easiest way to lock down a spellcaster is to have an enemy (most likely a ranged attacker) simply ready an action to attack whenever the spellcaster starts to cast a spell. This works by PCs attacking enemy spellcasters just as much as it does having NPCs target PC spellcasters.

This is not an insubstantial complaint. A dedicated ranged attacker can quickly make life difficult for a spellcaster. Ideally, a spellcaster will have things like a high AC (likely from a combination of spells and magic items), cover and/or concealment, and allies harassing the attacker to throw off such opposition.

Such things may still be lopsided in the attacker’s favor, however, in which case the following changed is recommended: soft cover stacks with itself. To put it another way, for every creature between you and a ranged attacker, you gain soft cover. So if there are three creatures between a wizard and an archer, the wizard will have triple soft cover (a +12 bonus to AC!) against the archer’s attacks. This encourages a much greater degree of tactical thinking – as well as meat-shield-style protect-the-mage tactics – in targeting enemy spellcasters. It also makes mooks good for a bit more than mere cannon-fodder.

Note that this rule holds true for spell-like abilities as well; utilizing such things may be a silent act of will, but still requires the same concentration as actual spellcasting, and so is equally vulnerable to disruption.

In regards to magic items, this variant rule applies only to spell trigger magic items (which is usually just scrolls). Using a spell trigger magic item is essentially spellcasting, with the energies contained in the scroll rather than within yourself, and so can be disrupted (and the scroll lost). Other kinds of magic items, by contrast, are simply having their imbued energies directed, rather than carefully constructed the way a spellcaster does.

Limited Learning

One of the wizard’s greatest powers is that the number of spells they can learn has no limit. True, only so many can be prepared at a time, but they can potentially learn every arcane spell out there – giving them access to potentially unlimited power, and allowing them the right tools to master virtually any situation. That has always been the real power of the wizard class.

Of course, by “always” we mean “since Third Edition.”

Believe it or not, back in earlier editions, there were caps on the number of spells that wizards could learn per spell level, based on their Intelligence. Maybe everyone conveniently “forgot” that rule, or perhaps it was simply discarded outright, but it’s notable for how potent a limit this is on a wizard’s power.

Originally, the exact limits on spells per level as determined by Intelligence was its own table, but for the reintroduction of this rule in Pathfinder, we can set a more general limit: spellcasters that must record the number of spells they learn – e.g. wizards and magi – can only learn a number of spells per spell level equal to their one-half their casting stat (rounded down). So in other words, a wizard with an Intelligence of 18 could learn nine 1st-level spells, nine 2nd-level spells, nine 3rd-level spells, etc.

A distinction needs to be made, in this case, between “spells learned” and “spells recorded in their spellbook.” While it may seem superfluous to do so, wizards and magi that want to prepare spells in their spellbook without learning them – either because they’ve already hit their limit, because they want to collect spells ahead of time and then figure out which ones to learn, or because their limit might go up later (e.g. gaining more points of Intelligence) – can do so using the standard rules for deciphering and copying magic writings (e.g. scrolls, borrowed spellbooks, etc.).

The spells that a wizard actually learns, however, should be recorded separately on the PC’s character sheet. There’s no need to institute a check for a PC to learn a spell, though if you decide to call for one a Spellcraft check (DC 15 + 1 per spell level) is a good baseline, with one check allowed per spell per day.

If using this rule in your game, you may also want to include an option that every so often (such as at 4th level and every even level thereafter) the wizard can permanently “forget” one spell that he’s learned, and replace it with another of the same level.

Note that, using this variant rule, you’ll need to decide what to do regarding wizards and magic items. With a limit on the spells they can prepare each day, most wizard and magus PCs will look to scrolls, wands, and staves to expand their repertoire. There are two ways to adjudicate this.

The first option is to allow these characters to still utilize all magic items as they would normally. A PC magus, for example, could use a scroll or a wand with an arcane spell on the magus spell list, even if it’s not one of the spells that particular PC has learned. The limiting factors here aren’t game mechanics, but rather are the GM taking care to control what magic items are available (as opposed to having anything the PCs want be available for the standard prices at “magic marts” in every town).

The other option is to play it much more strictly regarding magic items – specifically, spell completion and spell trigger magic items. In this case, the spells learned act as the PC’s entire class spell list, meaning that any spells not learned can’t be automatically utilized in corresponding magic items. In this instance, a magus PC that hasn’t learned a fireball spell won’t have any greater ability to utilize a wand of fireballs or a scroll of fireball any better than, say, the fighter would. Note that in this scenario, Use Magic Device becomes a much more sought-after skill.

Wizardly Woes

As mentioned above, each of these three variant rules can be used separately, or altogether. While individually they each introduce a sharp check on the power of spellcasting characters, altogether they can seem unreasonably harsh – particularly to wizards.

What’s key to remember is that these restrictions are meant to be the answer for spellcasters, particularly full-progression arcane spellcasters, from dominating the game at higher levels. If that’s not (anticipated to be) a problem in your game, then you won’t need many (or perhaps any) of these restrictions. On the other hand, if you think that wizards and other spellcasters are so powerful as to utterly overshadow fighters and their ilk at higher levels, then these can be very helpful indeed.

The zeitgeist of game design is that if one class or set of classes is better than another, you need to give the weaker class(es) new abilities to bump them up. With the variant rules introduced – or rather, reintroduced – here, you can instead bust the so-called “stronger” classes back down.

Suburban Knightmares

September 9, 2012

One of my favorite websites is The Spoony Experiment, a website where a fellow known as The Spoony One reviews various movies, video games, and other aspects of popular culture. While informative, the main draw of his reviews is, to me, the hysterical way he’ll tear them a new one for their faults – it’s internet snark at its finest.

Until recently, Spoony was a member of a collective of such reviewers known as That Guy With the Glasses. While it largely functions as a loose confederation, the various members of TGWTG will often make guest appearances in each other’s reviews. Usually these are quick cameos, but sometimes a review will turn into a fully-fledged crossover between two (or more) reviewers.

Sometimes, though, the TGWTG crew pulls out all the stops…

Each year, the reviewers get together and put on a large multi-part production as a group, turning the proverbial dials up to eleven when they do. One year it was a giant battle royal between them all, another year it was them trying to overthrow a country, etc. But there’s one such spectacle that’s of particular interest.

The 2011 TGWTG team-up was called Suburban Knights, and it involves the group going on an epic quest to recover a magical artifact…while dressed up as famous characters from various fantasy-based media. It’s pretty silly, but then, that’s sort of the point.

Before going any further, it should be noted that this article will contain SPOILERS. For what it’s worth, I recommend watching the mini-series, as it’s funny and only about as long as a feature film (e.g. about two hours).


“Tell me, what do you think of the twenty-first century?”

The reason I’m going on about this is because of the villain in Suburban Knights, a ruthless sorcerer named Malecite (pronounced “malachite,” which I think is how they should spell it too, but the credits list it as “Malecite”). Malecite is searching for a powerful artifact that he created long ago – a gauntlet known as Malecite’s Hand – that will allow him to use his magic without drawing upon his life force.

Incredibly old, Malecite is driven by a deep hatred for the rise of technology that ended the reign of magic in the world. He has sought to regain Malecite’s Hand for millenia, as it gives him the power to cast spells with impunity, and thus bring about the end of the era of technology.

Available Character Points: 264 (level ten) + 30 CP (first-, third-, fifth-, seventh-, and ninth-level feats) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 10 (three disadvantages; Dependent, History, and Hunted) + 10 (Fast Learner) = 320 CP.

Malecite’s disadvantages represent his enduring obsession (for over two thousand years!) with finding his gauntlet, the reasons he lost it in the first place (which comes back to haunt him at the climax of the series), and that groups opposed to his finding it and carrying out his plan continually pop up (there have assuredly been others throughout the millenia who rose to combat Malecite’s ambition).

The above notes that, as a 10th-level character, Malecite has five feats from his levels. This is in reference to Pathfinder’s increased pace of giving characters feats – every odd-numbered level, rather than every third level. While it’s only a difference of one feat here, by 20th level, this results in a Pathfinder-based Eclipse character having 18 CP more than a “normal” (e.g. 3.5-based) Eclipse character.

Of course, that’s just looking at feats alone – the gap between Pathfinder and 3.5, as judged in Eclipse, is actually slightly wider. For example, Pathfinder characters in Eclipse get the Pathfinder Package deal, which I’ve mentioned before, worth 12 CP. Even beyond that, if we stick to the Pathfinder paradigm of giving characters “traits” – two “half-feats” at character creation that help to flesh out their back-story and give small bonuses – that’s another 6 CP (since Eclipse prices a feat as being 6 CP, that’s what two “half-feats” are worth).

This is another benefit to using Eclipse as opposed to straight class-and-level builds – the CP breakdowns make comparison much easier. In this case, we can see that by 20th level, a Pathfinder character (that uses the traits rule) has gotten one-and-a-half more levels’ worth of abilities over his 3.5 counterparts (and don’t forget to compare racial builds – a Pathfinder-Eclipse human gets 13 CP, compared to a 3.5-Eclipse human getting 9 CP).

Ability Scores (25-point build): Str 12, Dex 16, Con 16, Int 17, Wis 10, Cha 12. These include his human racial bonus (applied to Intelligence), and the +1 bonuses from Improved Self-Development at levels 4 and 8 (added to Constitution and Dexterity, respectively).

Given that he’s incredibly ancient, as well as a pioneer of magic in the world, it seems appropriate for Malecite to have such a large point-buy allotment.

Human Traits

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills (3 CP).
  • Humans get to pick which attribute enjoys the Pathfinder Template bonus – buying off a Corruption worth (4 CP).

Basic Purchases (97 CP)

  • 10d6 Hit Dice (20 CP).
  • +5 Warcraft (30 CP).
  • +3 Fort save (9 CP).
  • +7 Reflex save (21 CP).
  • +3 Will save (9 CP).
  • One simple weapon proficiency (quarterstaff) (1 CP).
  • 7 skill points (7 CP).



Ability Bonus

Class Bonus




+3 Dex





+1 Cha



Knowledge (arcana)


+3 Int



Knowledge (earth and life sciences)


+3 Int



Knowledge (physical sciences)


+3 Int



Knowledge (technology)


+3 Int





+3 Int



Martial Arts (urban staff combat)


+3 Dex





+0 Wis





+3 Int





+3 Dex





+0 Wis



Malecite has a grand total of 47 skill points. 40 from his +3 Intelligence bonus and 1 racial bonus rank over ten levels; the other 7 are from CP expenditures. As per the Pathfinder Package Deal, Malecite gets to have twelve skills (in addition to Craft and Profession) be class skills – these twelve are those in the table above.

The Urban Staff Combat martial art skill is from the Emergence Campaign Weblog. With a total bonus of +16, Malecite has learned eight techniques: Attack 2, Defense 4, Power 1, and Strike.

Three of Malecite’s Knowledge skills (earth and life sciences, physical sciences, and technology) are d20 Modern skills. Likewise, the bonus languages he gets from his ranks in Linguistics are deliberately undefined; anyone who’s been alive for millenia most assuredly has learned to speak more than one language!

Presuming that his Hit Dice received average rolls (after the first, which is maximized), then with his Constitution bonus Malecite should have a total of 67 hit points.

Special Abilities (165 CP)

  • 10 caster levels/specialized as sorcerer only for half cost (30 CP).
  • Metamagic/Triggering (6 CP).
  • Metamagic/Easy (6 CP).
  • Metamagic/Compact (6 CP).
  • Create Relic (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner (6 CP).
  • Expertise (6 CP).

Expertise here grants Malecite +3 additional attacks of opportunity per round.

  • Occult Sense (6 CP) with the Improved modifier (+6 CP). Malecite can sense magic itself, and knows when one of his spells has been dispelled, cancelled, or otherwise undone.
  • Immunity/aging (uncommon/minor/legendary; 12 CP).
  • Block (6 CP) with the Catch modifier (+6 CP). This is set to affect missile weapon attacks.
  • Occult Ritual (6 CP).
  • Martial Arts (3 CP).

This is the special ability that lets him strike unarmed without provoking an AoO, rather than the skill listed above.

  • Body Fuel (6 CP) with the Efficient (x3; 18 CP), Versatile (6 CP), Reserve (x3; 18 CP), and Blood Magic (6 CP) modifiers.

Sinking so many CP into Body Fuel is how Malecite is still able to use magic so freely despite it draining his life force when he doesn’t have the gauntlet. While he has no magic levels himself, he can create one spell level per 2 hit points sacrificed (1 hit point for 0-level spells), and has 72 “phantom” hit points that can only be used for this purpose. He may also add up to +4 levels of metamagic that he knows to spells he casts – either with or without the gauntlet – by sacrificing an appropriate number of hit points.

Spells Known (23 CP)

Malecite knows the following spells: death blow* (2 CP), dominate person (1 CP), call lightning (arcane variant; 2 CP), cone of cold (fire variant; 2 CP), escape velocity* (2 CP), fireball (1 CP), fireball (electrical variant; 2 CP), heart breaker* (2 CP), invisibility (1 CP), locate object (1 CP), mage hand (1 CP), magic missile (1 CP), stoneskin (1 CP), trap the soul (variant that uses an ancient book rather than a diamond, and can release a prisoner via writing in the book rather than being destroyed; 2 CP), tremors* (2 CP).

These spells are bought via the sidebar on Eclipse page 11. The standard spells cost 1 CP each, while the original variants that Malecite invented cost 2 CP each. Note that these also count as Spells Known when Malecite is using Malecite’s Hand.

This is bending the rules slightly – when using Malecite’s Hand, Malecite is a spontaneous spellcaster, and should be paying double the costs listed above for his spells. However, since he’s technically buying these for use with his Body Fuel spellcasting powers, he’s paying the non-spontaneous prices. It’s a bit of cheese, but we’ll let it slide considering that he doesn’t have the gauntlet most of the time.

The spells marked with an asterisk are new spells, described as follows:

Death Blow; School transmutation; Level sorcerer/wizard 4; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range touch; Target creature or object touched; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw none; Spell Resistance yes.

This spell allows you to hit a foe for massive damage. A creature or object successfully struck with an unarmed strike (not merely a touch attack) takes 1d6 points of damage per caster level (10d6 maximum). A creature killed by this spell is apparently struck by a blow of epic proportions (e.g. punched to pieces, launched into orbit, etc.) and leaves behind no physical body unless the caster wishes to do so.

Escape Velocity; School conjuration (teleportation); Level sorcerer/wizard 7; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range adjacent; Target one creature; Duration 1d4+1 rounds; Saving Throw Reflex negates; Spell Resistance yes.

A creature hit with this spell is apparently knocked into orbit (or otherwise launched into the atmosphere) for 1d4+1 rounds. While this seems to be because of a physical blow, the target is actually launched by a teleportation effect. Due to disorientation, a creature can take no actions while so teleported, and the caster does not know how long they will be gone.

At the end of the spell’s duration, the target lands prone in their original space. If now occupied, the target lands in the closest unoccupied space, and the creature occupying their original space is also knocked prone. If used indoors, with no way to send a creature outside (e.g. a window), the spell apparently sends them into a wall at great speed, causing them to be dazed for 1d4+1 rounds.

Heart Breaker; School necromancy [death]; Level druid 6, sorcerer/wizard 5; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range adjacent; Target one living creature; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Fortitude partial; Spell Resistance yes.

This spell allows the caster to attempt to rip out a living creature’s heart. On a failed save, the target creature takes 5 points of damage per caster level (maximum 75 points); creatures reduced to 0 hit points or less have their heart torn out of their body. On a successful save, they take 3d6 points of damage + 1 per caster level (maximum of +15). Only living creatures with a heart (GM’s prerogative) are subject to this spell.

Tremors; School evocation [earth]; Level bard 6, sorcerer/wizard 6; Range short (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels); Area 40 ft. radius spread.

This spell functions as earthquake, except as follows. The spell has only a 30% chance of causing the roof to collapse in a cave, cavern, or tunnel, a 40% chance of causing a cliff to collapse, does not open fissures on open ground, deals 25 points of damage to a structure (typically only enough to cause poorly-constructed structures to collapse completely), and water in the area is treated as being one degree rougher, as defined by the Swim skill (e.g. calm water becomes rough water, rough water becomes stormy water).

Malecite’s Hand (35 CP)

Something of a misnomer, this relic is actually the gemstone embedded on the back of the gauntlet. It bestows immense spellcasting powers on whomever wears it, though only slight control over those powers. This is usually more than enough to tempt its wearer into studying magic further (e.g. developing further base caster levels).

  • 13 sorcerer magic levels (no built-in caster levels) (169 CP).
  • 3 sorcerer caster levels (9 CP).
  • Fast general metamagic upgrade (6 CP).
  • 24 ranks in Spellcraft/corrupted for increased effect – may only be used to power Occult Rituals (24 CP).

The above shows how Malecite’s power is increased dramatically with the gauntlet – the magic levels let him use his spellcasting with much less difficulty, falling back on Body Fuel as a way of enhancing his metamagic. Moreover, it gives him enough ranks in Spellcraft to cast incredibly powerful ritual magic – this was how he was going to cast the spell to bring about the end of the age of technology before Ma-Ti interrupted him.

The above is also a good example of why GMs should limit how much CP a character is allowed to sink into a relic. With its sixfold multiplier, sinking almost one-and-a-half levels’ worth of abilities into a relic is a recipe for some truly atrocious creations. Of course, Malecite did lose it for over two thousand years, making it more of a mcguffin than anything else, which is probably the best way to handle such a thing.

Looking over Malecite’s stats, there are some areas of relative deficiency. For example, even when using his Urban Staff Combat martial art, Malecite is going to have a total AC of 17, which is woeful for a 10th-level character. Likewise, his hit points are about what you’d expect for a sorcerer of his level, which is to say that they’re not that great. It’s thanks to the comparatively weak opposition he faced in Suburban Knights (e.g. characters of much lower level) that he was able to mow through them so easily.

Likewise, I have a suspicion that I probably could have modeled Malecite’s spellcasting more artfully. Instead of essentially giving him two forms of spellcasting (generic spell levels from Body Fuel, and sorcerer magic levels in the relic), it probably would have been better to have him buy the magic levels himself with a corruption or specialization to them, which the gauntlet would have bought off.

As it stands, despite his personal power and possessing the gauntlet, Malecite lost because Ma-Ti just happened to have the relic that was created specifically to defeat Malecite. This was explained poorly in the film – I remain convinced that, in the segment where the camera zooms in on Ma-Ti’s ring, what you should hear is the Voice of the Ancient World explaining how Aeon created a ring with a loadstone capable of reflecting Malecite’s magic back at him, rather than what was played (the bit about technology being Aeon’s legacy); that would have made much more sense.

That said, if you ever want Malecite to make a dramatic return for your game, I hope the above stats help you do it.

Special thanks to Spellweaver81 and Burning8bones for their suggestions on writing this character!

A Legendary Burnout

August 26, 2012

There’s a syndrome that affects thousands of gamers every year, and yet has received little coverage even inside the gaming community: supplement burnout. I’m sad to say that lately, I’ve started to fall victim to it myself.

“I’m afraid we’ll need to amputate your Core Rulebook.”

Supplement burnout can be caused by many things, but is usually due to a combination of the cost of new books, a perceived deficiency in the time and energy needed to read and absorb them, and diminished opportunity to use newly purchased materials in the game. Simply put, when you buy an expensive book, but don’t have enough time to read it and don’t think you’ll be able to put it to practical use, it’s hard to get excited about even more books coming down the line.

For me, what tipped the scales was Paizo’s Advanced Race Guide, more specifically the chapter on point-buy race construction. Well, sort of. Let’s back up a bit.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll probably have noticed the passing references I’ve made to Distant Horizons Games’ book Eclipse: The Codex Persona. This book has long been of interest to me, as it makes character creation into a point-buy system that allows for unprecedented flexibility while still being compatible with 3.5 and Pathfinder. Eclipse – and its sister supplement The Practical Enchanter – are, to me, the epitome of the “options, not restrictions” ethos of Third Edition.

Hence why the Advanced Race Guide’s point-buy race-creation system depressed me, even though the rest of my gaming group was invigorated by it. To me, it was being celebrated for offering a limited subset of something that had long been available.

Now, this wasn’t the be-all and end-all of my supplement burnout. This had been building for a while – the endless parade of support materials, first from WotC and then Paizo (to their credit Paizo kept the supplement treadmill slow at first, but it’s been increasing with each passing year), as well as the proliferation of third-party products, had all taken their toll on me.

The difference was that now, I foresaw a means of putting an end to a lot of that burnout, at least for a while. Eclipse isn’t the answer to everything – pre-made adventures are still a favorite of mine, for example – but in terms of building PCs, NPCs, and even monsters, it pretty well does whatever I can think of (and, to give credit where credit is due, if there was something I couldn’t think of, I posted on the author’s blog – the Emergence Campaign Weblog, over on the blogroll to the right – and he was very nicely willing to tell me how to use the system to do so).

Given that, I’m trying to convince my group to let my next character be made with Eclipse. I’m encountering a bit more resistance than I expected – apparently the free-form options of a point-buy system unnerve them – but it’s something I’m really excited for.

Ergo, in order to brush up on making Eclipse characters, I’ve been trying my hand at some sample characters lately. These aren’t meant to be PCs, but rather are meant to build my familiarity with the system. Of course, since Eclipse is used to build characters, I decided (largely for my own amusement) to make stats for existing characters from various media.

Suit Up

This first sample character is, wait for it…legendary! Straight from CBS’ hit show How I Met Your Mother, this is Barney Stinson.

“First level? More like twenty-first level, am I right?”

If this seems like an odd character to start with, I admit that it is. What’s most significant here is that Barney is an undeniably first-level character, and is realistically defined, being from a sitcom set in the real world. Of course, what makes the character so much fun is that he bends the rules of what’s “realistically” possible, and so has a few more tricks up his finely-tailored suit sleeve than an ordinary person…

Available Character Points: 48 CP (level one) + 6 CP (level one feat) + 6 CP (human bonus feat) + 10 CP (three disadvantages; History, Showman, and Valuable) + 2 CP (duties to Goliath National Bank) = 72 CP.

Ability Scores (elite array): Str 10, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 17 (base score 15 +2 racial bonus).

Human Traits

  • Bonus feat (6 CP).
  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills (3 CP).
  • Humans get to pick which attribute enjoys the Pathfinder Template bonus – buying off a Corruption worth (4 CP).

This last bullet point is an indicator that Barney’s stats are built using the Pathfinder Package Deal, found at Eclipse Pathfinder – Basics and Races.

Basic Purchases (42 CP)

  • d12 Hit Die (8 CP).

Given that Barney survived being hit by a bus at full speed, he clearly isn’t too lacking where hit points are concerned. At the same time, he didn’t exactly shrug it off either, so he only has one hit die, albeit a large one. Since the first hit die is maximized, this plus his Con bonus gives him 14 hit points.

  • +2 to all saves (18 CP).
  • 16 skill points (16 CP).

Barney’s basic purchases illustrate why most modern characters aren’t adventurers: there’s simply no reason for them to invest significant time and expense in combat training, let alone studying how to effectively use weapons and armor. Rather, it’s far more worthwhile to learn new skills. As there is no “Pathfinder Modern,” Barney’s skills are an amalgamation of Pathfinder and d20 Modern skills, as listed below. As per the Pathfinder Package Deal, Barney treats Profession and twelve other skills as being class skills.



Ability Bonus

Class Bonus





+1 Dex




+0 Int, +3 Cha





+3 Cha


+3 Skill Focus


Computer Use


+0 Int, +3 Cha





+3 Cha


+2 Wealth




+3 Cha





-1 Wis



Knowledge (business)


+0 Int, +3 Cha



Knowledge (popular culture)


+0 Int, +3 Cha





+0 Int, +3 Cha



Perform (art)


+3 Cha


Perform (dance)


+3 Cha



Perform (keyboards)


+3 Cha


Perform (sing)


+3 Cha



Profession (executive)


-1 Wis


+2 Wealth


Sense Motive


-1 Wis


Sleight of Hand


+1 Dex





+0 Str


*we’ll bend the rules here a little, and grant Barney extra languages based on his ranks and class bonus, rather than ranks alone. Hence, in addition to his native English, Barney can speak Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

Special Abilities (30 CP)

  • Skill Focus: Bluff (6 CP)
  • Wealth Level Template: Affluent (6 CP)

Okay, this one is actually being cribbed from the CP costs for Wealth Level Templates (found in The Practical Enchanter) over on Twilight Isles World Laws and Character Creation. In this case, Barney won’t have access to magic items, obviously, but we’ll say that it does provide access to masterwork items that aren’t under a military-grade restriction. We’ll also bend the rules a bit again and say that the clause about “provides an extra skill point when you gain a level while possessing this template” also counts at 1st level.

  • Augmented Bonus/Add Charisma modifier to Int-based skills (6 CP).
  • Mana with the Reality Editing and Unskilled Magic options (12 CP).

Barney has 4 points of personal mana. Using Reality Editing is how he is often able to perform some of his more “coincidental” stunts. The Unskilled Magic option is how Barney is able to accomplish the ones that would normally be completely impossible, like remaining underwater for twelve minutes without difficulty, win the New York City Marathon without any training, or have brief telepathic conversations with his friends (note that we’re waving the rule that in order to cast a spell, your caster level – which is his Hit Dice when using Unskilled Magic – must be [(spell level x 2) -1]). Of course, the spells he uses to do that are fairly specific, as follows:

Apnea; School transmutation; Level druid 1, sorcerer/wizard 1, ranger 1; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S, M (a small inflated balloon); Range touch; Target living creature touched; Duration special; Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless).

Apnea allows you to hold your breath for 1 minute per point of Constitution, after which time the spell expires and you become subject to the normal rules for holding your breath. If you cease holding your breath prematurely, the spell ends.

Stud’s stamina; School transmutation; Level sorcerer/wizard 2, druid 2; Casting Time 1 standard action; Components V, S; Range touch; Target living creature touched; Duration 1 hour per level; Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless).

Stud’s stamina grants a +10 bonus to Constitution checks. Note that this does not apply to Constitution-based skills.

Telepathic conversation; School divination; Level sorcerer/wizard 2; Range 30 ft.; Target you plus one willing creature; Duration 1 minute (D).

Telepathic conversation functions like telepathic bond, except as listed above.

Now, if you’ve never used Eclipse before, the above likely looks confusing, if not outright off-putting. As such, I’m going to “translate” the above into a typical Pathfinder stat block. A few things of note – I’ve listed Barney’s class as “Eclipse hero.” Similarly, I’ve removed his alignment listing (as those are always controversial when trying to assign them to an existing character) and replaced it with d20 Modern-style allegiances.

Barney Stinson CR 1/2

XP 200

Male human eclipse hero 1

Medium humanoid (human)

Allegiances his friends; Goliath National Bank

Init +1; Senses Perception -1


AC 11, touch 11, flat-footed 10 (+1 Dex)

hp 14 (1d12+2)

Fort +4, Ref +3, Will +1


Speed 30 ft.


Str 10, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 8, Cha 17

Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 11

Feats Skill Focus (Bluff)

Skills Acrobatics +2, Appraise +7, Bluff +10, Computer Use +7, Diplomacy +9, Disguise +7, Gamble +3, Knowledge (business) +7, Knowledge (popular culture) +7, Linguistics +7, Perform (art) +4, Perform (dance) +7, Perform (keyboards) +4, Perform (sing) +7, Profession (executive) +5, Sense Motive +0, Sleight of Hand +5, Swim +1

Languages English, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian

SQ augmented bonus, mana (4 points, reality editing, unskilled magic), wealth template: affluent

This is the first of several such characters I’ll be portraying with Eclipse in the near future. My hope is to turn more people on to this vastly under-appreciated book. So until next time, stay awesome!

Law of the Land, Part 3 – Suspicious Spellcasting

October 23, 2011

Two of the most major aspects of “fantasy” as a genre are the presence of monsters, and the existence of magic. As far as laws go, monsters aren’t protected by it, nor do they typically recognize or abide by it; that’s part of what makes them monsters. Magic, however, is something altogether different. In Pathfinder, magic is a tool that can be used for good or for ill or even for other things altogether, by virtually anyone. Hence, some laws need to be devoted to magic.

"Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!"

In this article, we examine the use of magic in upholding the laws and investigating their misuse, as well as look at what constitutes criminal uses of magic.

(I must confess, this article is the main reason for this entire series. I originally wanted to examine laws governing spellcasting, but quickly realized that this would be exceptionally difficult without a backdrop regarding the basic structure of laws in a Pathfinder campaign. Hence the first two parts to this series.)

Supernatural Sleuths

In order for criminal laws to have any real effect, you need to be able to investigate violations of them; otherwise you had better hope that law enforcement is present when a crime occurs. Given that, how can uses of magic be invested?

One of the first ways is to examine the magical auras left behind after magic has been used, as per the description in detect magic. That’s not very helpful though, as the auras don’t last very long and only reveal the school of magic used, rather than the actual spell. For that, I suggest making a correction to the spell’s functionality. In general, this should be enough that the rest can be solved by good old-fashioned detective work (e.g. working out who had the ability to use such a spell, why they would have cast it, where they were when the crime occurred, etc.).

For those looking for magic to provide results near-instantly, higher-level divination spells can also gather information about something that’s already happened, but it usually requires quite a bit more magical ability. The earliest available such spell in the Core Rulebook is contact other plane, with spells like legend lore and vision offering even greater answers as levels are gained.

Divine spellcasters make, pound for pound, better detectives than their arcane counterparts. With a bevy of low-level spells like speak with dead, zone of truth, discern lies, a cleric, paladin, or inquisitor can likely whittle down a list of suspects very quickly.

And that’s not even getting into what can be done with magic items and a good Use Magic Device skill bonus.

Even beyond these, there are plenty of sourcebooks out there that can offer great new spells and abilities where magical detectives are concerned. For a particularly useful one, check out the 3.5 supplement Crime and Punishment (available for free over on the Grand OGL Wiki).

Intervening in the Divine

The above notation that divine spellcasters make some of the best magical-crime investigators may seem somewhat odd (if not outrightly hypocritical), given that the first part of this series made note that most of what’s here was going to be independent of the game world’s religions. We’ve gone this far without presuming much of anything on that front, so why start now?

The answer is that while this series takes a hands-off approach to in-game religions, that’s due solely to practicality – there’s no reason not to have them be more active as it suits your game. If there are Lawful Good divine spellcasters who want to take part in enforcing the laws, then (presuming it makes sense for a given country to allow them to do so) let them do so. Likewise, having paladins or inquisitors in the city guards may be normal in a state religion. Some religions may even have religious dispensations in regards to some of the laws listed below. Like any other part of this article, change what’s necessary to make the divine spellcasting aspects work better in your game.

Magic Is As Magic Does

It should be clear, both to the players and their characters, that the law won’t make fine distinctions between “types” of magic. Whether it’s by arcane or divine magic, a spell-like ability or a supernatural one, a magic item or an inherent magical ability, it all falls under the laws listed here. Using magic to commit a crime is enough for those in charge of enforcing the law – the type of magic doesn’t matter except as it relates to bringing the perpetrator to justice.

Criminal Thaumaturgy

The list below presents criminal actions that can be performed using magic (as examining specific spells is impractical in the extreme). The category of the crime refers to the degree of punishment it commands, as laid down in part one of this series. Some magical crimes refer to non-magical criminal activities from part two.

Attack Spells: As a general rule, spells which cause hit point damage are treated as crimes equal to non-magical attacks which deal damage. So killing someone with magic is murder (this includes death effects that don’t necessarily deal hit point damage, unless those attack the soul, in which case they’re necromancy (q.v.)), damaging things with magic is destruction of property, starting a fire with magic is arson, etc. Note that area-effect spells can quickly rack up multiple counts of such crimes.

Conjured Creatures: Depending on the type of creature summoned (or called) this can constitute devilry (q.v.; see part two). Further, creatures brought forth via magic are subject to the Principle of Transferred Guilt (see enchantments, below).

Enchantment: Mind-affecting spells, particularly charms and compulsions, are governed via two distinct legal principles. The first is the Principle of Non-Consent. This states that someone under the effect of an enchantment (which, to be clear, means any magic that affects their mind) is automatically presumed to be unwilling in everything they do while so enchanted. Hence, someone under an enchantment who then signs a contract is not legally bound by it. Someone who is charmed to offer a discount on an item has been subjected to theft (the amount stolen being equal to the discount given). Someone who is enchanted to have sex with the caster has been raped, etc.

The second principle governing the use of enchantments is the Principle of Transferred Guilt. This holds that someone who performs an illegal action while under an enchantment is not responsible for their actions, and the blame for them is instead placed at the feet of the one who enchanted them. So someone dominated and made to kill someone isn’t guilty of murder; the person who cast the spell on them is.

By themselves, enchantment spells don’t constitute any sort of crime, save for usually being an impermissible use of magic (q.v.). However, these two principles usually mean that whatever you want the charmed person to do will usually be a crime.

Impermissible Use of Magic: This is the most basic law governing magic – that people have the right not to be affected by magic without their consent; this also extends to the things they own. In other words, this makes it a crime to cast a spell of any sort on someone, or on something of theirs, without receiving their permission first. However, given the ubiquitous nature of magic, this is an infraction-category crime – if its discovered, it’s usually sufficient for a law-enforcement official to make the perpetrator stop…if it doesn’t break any other laws.

Necromancy: Criminal necromancy is any magic that raises or otherwise aids the undead, or damages or otherwise harms the soul. So using enervation would constitute necromancy, whereas vampiric touch would not. Note that magic to bring the dead back to life is not considered necromancy, since the soul must be willing for such magic to function. Likewise, spells that deal negative energy damage may aid the undead – since they heal them – but generally aren’t considered necromancy unless actually used to heal an undead creature. Necromancy is a felony-category crime.

Scrying: By itself, using magic to spy on someone (e.g. via clairvaudience/clairvoyance) is an impermissible use of magic (q.v.). However, when used against a ruler, this can instead be charged as treason, unless there is highly-convincing proof that the spellcaster wasn’t attempting to spy for purposes of bringing harm to the ruler or the realm.

Unauthorized Transformation: Changing someone into something else, or changing their possessions into something else, is a misdemeanor-category crime (and, of course, always includes immediately changing them back to normal). Likewise, using magic that creates or alters things in a way that disrupts economic conditions (e.g. using a lyre of building to construct a building, rather than allowing the carpenters’ guild to do so) is considered to be a form of enterprising (see part two), unless the spellcaster has permission from the government or relevant guild.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, this series has given you some ideas on how to flesh out your game world using the laws of various communities. The legalities of a community can offer great new avenues of play in your Pathfinder game, whether the PCs are the breaking the laws, writing the laws, or laying down the laws.

(Four wheels of fury are optional.)

Rightness of Thought and Action

September 3, 2011

Here at Intelligence Check, we try to keep up with what our readers are looking for. While popular opinion doesn’t decide what articles we put out, we do try to spotlight things that are popular among Pathfinder fans. We write this stuff for you guys, after all.

While our last article, Bringing Back the Sexy! was our most popular to date, a few people mentioned that they felt uncomfortable by the nature of the subject matter. Well, we listen to our readers, and so this article is dedicated to those who didn’t care for the previous material. This is for you.


School divination [lawful, mind-affecting]; Level inquisitor 1, paladin 1

Components V, S, DF

Duration 10 min./level

The thoughts people have affects their attitudes and behavior, which in turn affects how they deal with others; hence, bad thoughts can lead a person down the path to wickedness, and harm the community. This spell allows for the detection of such thoughts early on.

This spell functions as detect thoughts except as given here. This spell only detects thoughts that you would consider objectionable, such as blasphemy against your religion, gratuitous profanity, sexuality, and violence (in other words, things you wouldn’t want children to hear). Other thoughts are not detected by this spell.


School divination [lawful, mind-affecting]; School paladin 2

Duration 1 hour/level

This spell functions as detect bad thoughts except as listed here.

While this spell is active, whenever a paladin uses detect evil to concentrate on a single individual within 60 feet he also picks up any bad thoughts the creature is having as if having studied it for 3 rounds. While focusing on one individual with detect evil, the paladin does not detect bad thoughts in any other individual within range.


School abjuration; Level cleric 1, inquisitor 1, paladin 1, sorcerer/wizard 2, summoner 2, witch 2

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 1 round/level (D)

Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

Inequality in a relationship is inherently damaging to the non-dominant participant, regardless of their personal feelings. Moreover, the very existence of such relationships suggest to others that they’re somehow legitimate, causing further harm to the fabric of society. This spell removes such bondage from a creature for a short time, allowing them to act freely.

A creature under the effects of this spell has all charm and compulsion effects suppressed for its duration. Moreover, they cannot make any sort of mental contact with another creature (e.g. telepathic bond). This spell suppresses the “link” and “share spells” special qualities when used on animal companions and eidolons, and the “empathic link” and “share spells” special qualities when used on familiars.

Summoned creatures are affected by this spell as though they were the subject of a targeted dispel magic.

Note that this spell does not affect a creature’s attitude. It may still choose to help someone it’s bonded to of its own free will.

If this spell is used against a sekirei, their “bonded” and “norito” special qualities are suppressed for the spell’s duration.


School abjuration [lawful, mind-affecting]; Level cleric 2, inquisitor 1, paladin 1

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 10 min./level

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

Objectionable imagery causes objectionable thoughts and opinions in people, which in turn leads to objectionable actions. This spell protects against that by making sure that those it wards cannot see or hear anything that would offend their sensibilities.

A creature affected by this spell is unable to see or hear anything offensive, obscene, lewd, or otherwise objectionable. The exact manner in which this spell stops such material from being sensed by the affected creature tends to vary between castings; images tend to be covered with a black bar or become distorted by a mosaic, while sounds are covered with a “bleep” noise, or are simply selectively muted. The exact nature of what a character finds objectionable varies, but for most creatures tends to include blasphemy against their religion, gratuitous profanity, sexuality, and violence (in other words, things that they would not want children to see or hear).

Bluff and Intimidate checks that incorporate objectionable elements automatically fail against a creature protected by this spell. Likewise, creatures under this spell gain a +6 resistance bonus against spells and effects that include objectionable elements.

The spell’s determination of what is or is not objectionable is measured by the sensibilities of the creature upon whom this spell is cast, not by the spell’s caster.

This spell made be made permanent when cast on yourself, requiring a minimum caster level of 5 and 1,000 gp. Despite the hard work of many clerics, inquisitors, and paladins, however, no way has yet been discovered to make this spell permanent when casting it on others.

[This spell was inspired by the Purify Sight spell used by Piffany the cleric in the hilarious comic “Nodwick,” by Aaron Williams.]

It should be noted that, from a strict rules standpoint, the purify senses spell is fairly out-of-whack. After all, it’s a low-level spell that grants total immunity to two skills, and a hefty bonus against spells and effects…some of the time, since when it applies is vague and not strictly defined in the game’s rules terminology.

It’s precisely because of that imprecise applicability, however, that the spell’s effects are so disproportionally powerful for its level. Using this spell means that the GM has a great deal of leeway over when its effects kick in and when they don’t. As such, it’s entirely possible for this spell to not grant its bonuses depending on how a given effect is role-played. The reward for using such a spell is that when its effects do kick in, they make themselves worthwhile.


School enchantment (compulsion) [mind-affecting]; Level alchemist 1, bard 1, inquisitor 1, paladin 1

Casting Time 1 standard action

Components V, S, DF

Range touch

Target creature touched

Duration 10 minutes

Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)

This spell makes a creature supremely confident in the correctness of their beliefs, gives them the courage necessary to tell people with differing opinions exactly why they’re wrong, and the conviction to keep the debate going until they’ve shown the other person the error of their ways (or at least gotten the last word).

A creature under the effects of this spell may use Diplomacy to make Intimidate checks.

On the surface, this spell doesn’t look very useful. After all, Intimidate is used to make a creature more helpful towards you, which Diplomacy already does. However, Intimidate can make a creature helpful no matter what its starting attitude is, whereas Diplomacy can only raise a creature’s attitude by two steps. Likewise, the DC to beat is calculated differently. And of course, this lets you demoralize an opponent with Diplomacy as well.

Until next time, may you be made of sterner stuff than the other guy!

It’s A Kind of Magic, Part 4 – Language

July 4, 2011

One of the most notable parts of spellcasting is the verbal component. Yes, there are dramatic gestures and it’s surely odd to see someone waving around random junk, but the shouted words are the most dramatic part. From “abracadabra” to “expelliarmus,” what we remember is the verbal incanting that triggers the spell.

But what’s the significance of the words? Does the language really matter? And for that matter, what language is it, exactly? For all the different ways to look at the language of magic, Pathfinder is silent on the issue. So then we’ll have to insert a few choice words in hopes of actually saying something.

Here is the language of magic in your Pathfinder game.

A Word of Warning

In previous instances of this series, we were looking at ways to describe the in-game nature of how magic is described in the Pathfinder game rules. This time around, things are going to be a little different. For this article, we’ll be looking at some alternate game rules to help promote the in-character changes we discuss.

For the most part, the game-world fluff changes in this article can be used without any major mechanical changes. Rather, the alternate rules we’ll be talking about help to reinforce the importance of the alterations we’ll be making. Pathfinder, like any role-playing game, works best when the fluff and the crunch support each other; hence these tweaks.


Before we get into issues of the language for how spells are verbalized, we need to take a step back and look at how language itself is treated in Pathfinder, which lays down the foundation for verbal spellcasting.

Unfortunately, the results aren’t very promising. While abstraction is a natural part of the game, language in Pathfinder is, in a word, gimped. Reduced to a single skill, with each skill point spent earning spoken and written fluency in a given language – to say nothing of magic that makes communication quick and easy – is only half the problem. The other half is that the languages themselves are reduced to little more than near-universal racial tongues, with no sense of interconnectedness or development.

So yeah, we’re going to have to make some changes.

The Mechanics of Talking the Talk

For this section, there’s a particular third-party product that I turn to for inspiration. Ars Lingua, from Tangent Games, is a 3.5 product that nevertheless works great in Pathfinder. We’re going to be looking to it for inspiration in regards to how to make languages have a bit more variety.

The first thing to do is throw away and replace all of the mechanics that de-emphasize the importance of language in the game world. That means ditching the Linguistics skill. In its place, we’re going to import the Speak Language and Read/Write Language skills.

Moreover, each of these skills is separate for a given language. That is, when you first take a rank in one of these skills, you note which particular language it’s for. Having 5 ranks in Speak Language (elven) doesn’t count for anything towards Speak Language (dwarven), and certainly not towards Read/Write Language of any given language.

Now, a few caveats must be made clear with this system. First, these are trained-only, Intelligence-based skills. Second, all characters who had Linguistics as a class skill have both of these as class skills (optionally, NPC classes – and barbarians – only have Speak Language as a class skill if they had Linguistics as a class skill). Third, at character creation, each character receives a number of bonus skill ranks in Speak Language and Read/Write Language equal to their Intelligence score, for each skill. This denotes their native language (again, NPC classes and barbarians may choose to omit the free ranks in Read/Write Language). Finally, both of these skills officially have no cap on the number of ranks you can have – your ranks may exceed your level without penalty.

A few more things must be said about these replacement skills. First, you are considered fluent in these skills when your total skill bonus reaches +20 (which will usually mean you reach full fluency with less than 20 ranks). Second, most functions of the discarded Linguistics skill are used with the relevant Speak Language or Read/Write Language skill check. For example, trying to detect a forgery written in Elven would be a Read/Write Language (elven) skill check.

And this is all I have to say about somatic components

One other thing worth noting is that Ars Lingua does showcase tables for standard DCs for both of these skills to showcase how much you understand on a given check. For example, it’s a DC 5 Speak Language check to understand simple phrases like “Where is the bathroom?” On the other hand, it’s a DC 25 Speak Language check to use technical terms for a special area of knowledge (e.g. being able to speak and understand medical lingo). There’s more to this, but I’ve already given away quite a bit of the book’s material.

Having done all of that, we’re also going to get rid of the spells read magic, comprehend languages, and tongues, as well as all related magic items (e.g. the helm of comprehend languages and read magic). It makes little point to play up language if we’re going to have magic negate all of the intricacies of it, after all. However, you may want to keep monstrous abilities that bypass language – such as truespeech and telepathy – if you want your monsters with those powers to seem otherworldly.

Okay, so now that we’ve created a subset of rules that lend more weight to languages in the game, how do we make the game world reflect this?

The Fluff of Talking the Talk

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there’s much to be done with reskinning the existing languages in the context of the game…right? Well, no, not really. First things first, the naming conventions for languages are pretty silly. In the real world, languages are largely named based on their country or region of origin, i.e. they speak German in Germany. But in the Pathfinder RPG, languages are racial. Elves speak Elvish, no matter where they were raised.

So the first thing to do is ditch racial languages; instead, appoint various languages as the major languages for the various countries/regions in your game world. Don’t worry if you want to appoint more than one, several countries in the real world have two or more major languages. Likewise, this doesn’t set what your character has to have as their native language; plenty of families, often immigrants, speak another language and raise their children to speak that one first.

The next step is trickier. This involves charting language families and determining what languages are related to each other. This is important because it will (at the GM’s discretion) allow a bonus on Speak Language and Read/Write Language checks for related languages. For simplicity’s sake, you can have all related languages use the same alphabet so that the written forms keep the same degree of similarity. Don’t be afraid to have languages that are completely divorced from all other languages. Finally, sketch out some dead languages for good measure.


At this point, you might be wondering just what all of this has to do with the verbal component of casting a spell. That’s a fair question, so we’re going to bring things back around to that point now. This part of this article was influenced from some of the ideas found in Wild Hunt Studio’s book The Way of the Magus – On Language and Research.

First, we’re going to operate under the assumption that the spoken words used to cast a spell aren’t some sort of special magical language – in fact, we’re going to go one step further and presume that the actual language used in spellcasting really isn’t that important; one works just as well as another.

What’s important to take away from this, however, is that various magical traditions (usually geographically-based) will use one specific language – oftentimes a particular ancient, dead language – as the language of spellcasting. For example, the wizards of Draedoria might teach their students only in Estic, a language that has been dead for over a thousand years. Hence, when spellcasting, wizards from Draedoria speak Estic as their verbal component, despite their normal language for everyday speech being Veltine.

The game mechanics of this are reflected in that characters taking their first level in a spellcasting class – just like new characters – gain automatic ranks equal to their spellcasting ability score (e.g. Intelligence for wizards, Charisma for sorcerers, etc.) in Speak Language and Read/Write Language for the language of their spellcasting class. Optionally, classes that don’t need a written source in order to prepare spells (e.g. a sorcerer) may not get the Read Language ranks.

The reason for this is that it creates a sense of regional (or other group) identity among spellcasters. Realizing that someone is speaking a given language while casting a spell gives you a clue to their identity. It’s worth noting that the nature of the organization the spellcaster belongs to varies depending on what sort of spellcaster they are. Wizards might be regional, but clerics will use a given religious language as taught in their church.

Finally your spellbooks can be more intricate than this.

Sorcerers, it should be noted, are generally hinted at being persecuted in the game world for their spontaneous magical powers. Using these rules adds an additional reason for it – unlike studious wizards, who learn their country’s language for spellcasting, sorcerers just suddenly start speaking a particular language when their powers manifest. If it’s from a hostile country, for instance, or is known as the tongue of parts of the Abyss, then it’s no wonder people look askance at the powers sorcerers command!

Bards, by contrast, would also likely know a foreign tongue for spellcasting, but in this case people would likely forgive them that simply because they’re itinerant by profession, so it’s natural that they’d have picked up their spellcasting somewhere else. This isn’t absolute, of course; if a bard’s language for spellcasting is that used by wizards of a nation that’s at war with another nation, people in that other nation won’t be too keen on that particular bard (if they hear him cast spells).

One idea that characters may have is to, since the actual language used isn’t too important when spellcasting, try casting in a foreign language. This is possible, but extremely difficult, since the character needs to precisely and quickly rattle off what’s likely a difficult set of verses, all in a foreign tongue. This should likely be a Speak Language check at a high DC (perhaps 15 + double the spell level), with failure meaning the spell is lost.


One thing that hasn’t been addressed so far is the actual meaning of the words being spoken, regardless of the language their spoken in, when casting a spell. In fact, this isn’t very important; the metaphysical nature of shaping ambient energy into specific effects likely means that the words spoken will be esoteric in nature. Though there’s doubtless a connection between the words and why a spell acts like it does, that’s more philosophical than practical.

One of the best examples of this is found in the anime Bleach (yes, yes, it’s an anime reference for table-top role-playing; just move on). The verbal incantation to invoke the black coffin spell, which apparently crushes an enemy with gravity, is as follows:

Seeping crest of turbidity.

Arrogant vessel of lunacy!

Boil forth and deny!

Grow numb and flicker!

Disrupt sleep!

Crawling queen of iron!

Eternally self-destructing doll of mud!



Fill with soil and know your own powerlessness!

Now THAT’S what it should sound like when you incant a spell. Just put that in a foreign language, and it’s appropriately strange and mystic enough to sound like you’re working real magic.

A Few Words More

Although it goes beyond the scope of language in magic, one further way to emphasize the difference between spellcasters of different countries, religions, and other groups is to make thematic spell lists for each such group. This is a lot of work, of course, but it lends a great deal of cultural distinction to magical practitioners. If the fireball spell is known as an invention of Draedoria, and you see somebody cast that spell while speaking Estic, you can bet where that wizard was trained, which can lead to all kinds of intrigue.

Making spell lists that are customized by country (or other boundary) is tricky, however. Don’t trim them down too narrowly or the PCs will quickly go beyond the spells that are considered “patriotic.” This especially means don’t theme them by school, since that virtually guarantees that characters will learn spells that are outside of the national paradigm for spellcasting. It might be a good idea to establish a large number of spells as universal – that is, they’ve been around so long that they aren’t regarded as belonging to any particular group – and make the cultural spell lists smaller.


With this, we conclude the It’s A Kind of Magic series of articles. Hopefully it’s given you some good material for your home game, and if not then I hope you at least enjoyed reading these ideas. Remember, spellcasting in Pathfinder might be mechanical to us, but to your characters, it’s magic!

It’s A Kind of Magic, Part 3 – Measurement

May 29, 2011

Up until now, we’ve been examining ways to generate in-game explanations for metagame rules regarding magic. We’ve made character-based explanations for where the energy to power a spell comes from, for example, or why it’s harder to teleport an object that someone’s holding than one that’s unattended.

This time, we’re going to take a look at spell levels, and try to judge how they’re viewed in the game world. This is trickier than it might seem at first glance, because unlike how previous metagame rules couldn’t be brought into the campaign world-view, spell levels conceivably could.

When you get right down to it, there’s little reason why character’s can’t make reference to “third-level spells” or “0-level spells” when talking to each other. After all, there’s clearly a difference in power between spells of different levels, and since there are in-game effects that differentiate between spell levels (such as how a globe of invulnerability only protects against spells of certain levels, or detect magic sees auras at different strengths depending on spell levels), why not just import the existing “level” terminology for spells into the game world?

DragonQuest magic

This is what in-character discussions about magic are like in my game.

As it turns out, there are a few reasons for not having characters talk about spell levels in the game world (beyond simply saying “it’s dry and sterile”). For one thing, the use of these metagame gradations become tautological when used in-game. Why is a 4th-level spell higher than a 3rd-level spell? Because it’s 4th-level and the other is only 3rd! It also brings up some oddities regarding things that change spell levels. Do spellcasters with metamagic feats know how much their spell level adjustment is? When your wizard is saying “I don’t recommend studying how to make your fireball wider, because that will make it from a 3rd-level spell into a 6th-level spell,” you’re halfway to speaking out of character.

“Now, hold on,” you say (interjecting for the third time in as many articles), “you already said that spells are utilizing energy, right? So aren’t they just talking about measurements of energy? People do that all the time!”

Ah, now you’re thinking along the right track! Since we laid down that magic is manipulating external energy – whether ambient or god-granted – it does make sense that someone would have invented a manner to measure that energy. After all, units of measurement exist for virtually everything, so why not magical energy too?

But let’s be clear, the system of “spell levels” isn’t actually measuring spell energy – it’s charting levels of energy without saying what it’s defining. It’s like talking about temperature using only descriptors; “0-level” is like saying “freezing cold,” “1st-level” is like saying “cold,” “2nd-level” is like saying “chilly,” etc. These terms show a clear progression, but they’re not precise and don’t actually use a unit of measurement.

Given that, since there is no existing unit of measurement for the energy used in magic, we’re going to have to invent one. Luckily, there’s a third-party supplement that can point us in the right direction.

That’s Why They Call Me Mr. Fahrenheit

The Practical Enchanter, by Distant Horizons Games, is a book which has been mentioned on this blog previously. It’s one of the best third-party supplements that was ever released for the d20 System, and it’s usefulness is very much intact for Pathfinder (and it’s free, to boot!). But in this case, we’re going to take a cue not from its rules, but from one of the in-character quotes peppered throughout the book (p. 116, to be specific):

Research costs were quite another matter. It was a fine demonstration of Lerandor’s Rule – that it takes 2 spells of level ‘N’ to equal 1 spell of level ‘N + 1′. Ergo duplicating a spell of level N with spells of level (X) will require 2 to the (N-X) power such spells.

This quote was originally given in the context of new spell research, and – overlooking that it has the character talking about spell-levels (something easily done, since the in-game characters quoted in the book regularly break the fourth wall) – lays down a guideline establishing how powerful spells of a given level are in relation to spells of other levels.

Needless to say, this is key. Lerandor’s Rule provides a numerical formula for charting the power of spells in relation to other spells, rather than a set of descriptors. Using this, we can build a system of measurement, starting with the lowest-level spells and working our way up.

0-level spells are the weakest spells it’s possible to cast; given that, we’ll say that the amount of energy needed to cast a cantrip/orison represents the base unit of measurement in our system. In other words, a 0-level spell has a value of “1.” Of course, we need a name for this base unit; since we’re working off of Lerandor’s rule, we’ll say that a single unit of magical energy is a “leran.”

So a 0-level spell is a spell with one leran of energy.

From here, it’s just a matter of applying Lerandor’s Rule. Since each spell level is twice as powerful as spells of a previous level, then we can generate the following:

  • A 0-level spell uses 1 leran.
  • A 1st-level spell uses 2 lerans.
  • A 2nd-level spell uses 4 lerans.
  • A 3rd-level spell uses 8 lerans.
  • A 4th-level spell uses 16 lerans.
  • A 5th-level spell uses 32 lerans.
  • A 6th-level spell uses 64 lerans.
  • A 7th-level spell uses 128 lerans.
  • A 8th-level spell uses 256 lerans.
  • A 9th-level spell uses 512 lerans.

And voila! Our in-character method for measuring different levels of spells is done!

Systems Check

…except, not completely. While this does present a good foundation, it’s still somewhat rough around the edges. Let’s go over some of the problems with the above system and see if we can smooth them out.

Numbering: Looking back at the above numbers, they seem somewhat off-putting, for two reasons. The first is how specific the numbers can be. A 9th-level spell, for example, isn’t 500 lerans; it’s 512. Do those last twelve really need to be there?

The other reason the above system can seem an awkward fit is that the numbers seem rigid. From a metagame perspective, there are only ten levels of spells, so having such fixed numbers seems to discard any possibility of any other measurements. If someone’s using detect magic, for example, they wouldn’t ever get a result of 100 lerans…that’d be some sort of weird spell that’s caught between 6th and 7th level.

The answer to both of these problems lies in remembering one simple fact: not all spells of a given level are equal.

It’s likely, if you have a head for spell design, that you already knew this. This is why some spells have expensive material components/foci and others don’t, or why some spells have a longer or shorter casting time than others. The salient detail is that this metagame consideration also translates into an in-game consideration as well. The specific amount of lerans a spell uses is a measurement of how much energy (that is, power) it has, and this is modified for a given level based on these other considerations for casting it.

Material components and casting time aren’t the only things that can indicate how many lerans a spell uses, of course. If the GM feels that a given spell is simply too weak or too strong, he can adjust its leran value accordingly.

For example, a 4th-level spell normally uses 16 lerans. But the stoneskin spell, with its 250 gp granite and diamond dust material component, is somewhat stronger than other spells of its level. Given that, it might be a spell with 20 lerans of power behind it. Likewise, foresight seems pretty weak for a 9th-level spell, so you might decide that it only uses 400 lerans.

Metamagic: One thing that’s interesting to consider when using the leran measurement for spells is where metamagic fits in. Since metamagic feats increase the effective level of a spell, do they also increase the number of lerans a spell uses?

On the surface, the answer to this seems like an obvious yes. After all, metamagic spells use up a spell slot of a higher level, and lerans are a way of measuring spell levels in game. However, despite how rational it seems, this answer is incorrect.

I bet you didn’t know that this was an Empowered Maximized blog.

It’s important to remember that metamagic increases the effective level of a spell, not its actual level; in other words, the size of the spell slot needed to cast it. The game rules lay this down very clearly; spells modified by a metamagic feat don’t use a higher save DC, for example. Hence, this is reflected in-game as well, and spells that use metamagic feats don’t utilize more lerans than they normally do without metamagic.

The rationale here is that a spell slot is different from a spell level. While that might sound like splitting hairs, it’s why you can prepare a lower-level spell in a higher-level spell slot, but doing so doesn’t lend it any additional power. You can prepare a fireball in a 4th-level spell slot, for example, but that lesser globe of invulnerability will still stop it cold.

The in-game explanation for why this is is that metamagic adds to a spell’s complexity, but not its power. When you make a spell silent, for example, you’re changing the method of casting to compensate for the lack of verbal components. The amount of energy in the spell doesn’t change, but you’re making it do more, essentially getting more mileage out of the same amount of power. Doing so is more difficult, however, and that’s represented by the higher-level spell slot you need to use.

The sole exception to all of this is Heighten Spell. That metamagic feat specifically adds more power, and correspondingly more lerans, to a spell, increasing just how much power it uses when cast. A heightened spell uses lerans based on its adjusted level, rather than the spell’s base level.

Caster Level: Although it’s going beyond what lerans are supposed to measure, it can seem a little odd that a measurement system for the degree of power of a spell doesn’t integrate the strength of the spellcaster. After all, a 10th-level wizard’s fireball deals twice as much damage as one cast by a 5th-level wizard.

There’s a reason for this, and it’s the same one that we went over when discussing metamagic in this context. While higher-level spellcasters have more mana, and can thus absorb and utilize spells with more lerans, they also know how to increase the complexity of spells they’ve already learned. That’s how they get more out of spells with effects that are measured by caster level.

In other words, our 10th-level wizard isn’t doing so much more damage with a fireball than his 5th-level counterpart because he’s able to sink more power into the spell; he’s just better able to utilize the same amount of power. His increasing mana allows for him to use existing spells with greater complexity, as well as new spells of greater power.

It should also be noted that detect magic utilizes a magic item’s caster level to determine its aura strength, instead of spell levels. Presumably this was done for simplicity, since then you only ever need to look at the caster level to determine the aura strength. Having said that, it’s much more internally consistent to just use the highest-level spell involved in the item’s creation to determine the strength of its aura; after all, that’s how you determine the aura’s school of magic, so why not its strength too?

Practicality: So now that we’ve generated this in-game methodology for the power of spell levels, where does this ever come up in your game, besides having in-character conversations between spellcasters? Well, as it turns out, in quite a few places. Remember what we said before about how some spells and effects deal explicitly with spell levels? These are where you can insert the leran measurement system into your game more directly.

For example, lesser globe of invulnerability protects those within it from all magical effects of 10 lerans or less, whereas globe of invulnerability protects from magical effects of up to 20. Detect magic, when viewing an active spell aura, registers anything of 10 lerans or less as “faint,” of 11 through 100 lerans as “moderate,” of 101 through 999 as “strong,” and 1,000 or more lerans (which would be an epic-level spell) as “overwhelming.”

The above suggestions become even more fun when you consider corner cases where a spell with unusually low or high lerans for its level might be subject to an effect that it normally wouldn’t be.

Next Time: Barbarians might say “enough talk!” and hurl daggers, but spellcasters are all about talking! The next article in this series is a massive post about the language of magic in your Pathfinder game.

It’s A Kind of Magic, Part 2 – Interactions

May 22, 2011

When you look at it from a narrative sense, there’s a lot about magic in Pathfinder that’s difficult to translate into in-game terms. From the nature of how people actually cast spells, which we examined last time, to some of the thornier areas of how people interact with spell effects and magic items. It’s this latter area that we’re going to examine here.

There are several areas that fall under this particular aegis, each of which deals with fully-formed spell effects – as well as magic items – and the effects they have on people. These broad areas include saving throws, spell resistance, and others.

Magic Items

Magic items present some rather sticky wickets when you stop and think about them from an in-game context; things like the concept of “body slots” are clear metagame constructs that have no appreciable in-game equivalent. Why can’t you wear ten rings on your fingers, or even wear one ring on your toe? Why can’t you tie a magic belt from hip to shoulder like a bandolier?

If you’ve read the previous entry in this series, you likely have a good idea of what the answer is. We previously established that people have a system of magical energy flowing through them, called “mana,” that makes it possible for them to utilize magic in the first place. Whether the god-given energy of divine spellcasters, or the ambient energy of arcane spellcasters, people have to flex and grow their internal mana system to be able to use these energies at all.

Can you find the single magic item in this picture? Look carefully!

This idea was originally based on the idea of magic chakras for utilizing magic items, which comes from Green Ronin’s Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide, and it’s an idea that we’re returning to here, though we’re altering it a bit to fit with the aforementioned mana system.

As previously mentioned, all people have a mana system within them, even if they never exercise it enough to actually cast spells or use supernatural effects. The 20th-level fighter, who has not only no spellcasting ability but also no spell-like or supernatural abilities (since his class offers none) still has mana within him…it’s just too weak and anemic to be able to muster up even the tinest cantrip.

Magic items are able to function because they already have the necessary magical energy sealed within them at the time of creation, however. That’s why they detect as magical even when not being utilized; they don’t rely on the user/wearer for their energy. They key here, however, is that in order to utilize the magic items that you’re wearing – that is, in order to gain the bonus or other beneficial effect that they grant – you need to let their energy affect you; in other words, you need to let their energy into your mana system.

This is significant because just touching the magic item isn’t enough. You don’t gain the benefit of a cloak of charisma if you just hold it in your hands, for example. You have to let the energy it’s been imbued with flow into you. This is where the idea of mana “chakras” comes into play.

Your mana system, like any other bodily circulatory system, doesn’t flow through your body evenly. It has major points and minor points, the same way your blood circulatory system has major veins like your jugular and minor capillaries. Magic items are able to interface with you by “plugging in” to the major pathways in your mana – and due to the metaphysical nature of your mana and its pathways through your body, each plug is different, and so requires different “prongs” to interface with (the same way that plugs for machines can have two metal prongs or three…don’t those just drive you nuts?); magic items are thus built with the proper prongs to plug into a specific major mana point on your body.

This, then, is the reason that you can only have a certain number of magic items worn, and only on certain locations on your body. You only have so many “sockets” that magic items can plug into…and each socket requires a different type of plug. Hence, your magic ring on your right hand is taking up the entire socket that is, in metagame terms, your hand slot (for that hand); it’s also why that ring won’t work on your toes…because the plug doesn’t fit the socket.

“But wait,” you ask, “what about those magic items that don’t require body slots? What about ioun stones, or scrolls, or even just held magic weapons like a holy avenger sword?”

Indeed, those are very good questions, let’s go over them one by one below.

Spell Completion Magic Items: Spell completion magic items, better known as scrolls, only work for those people with the spell on their spell list. The in-game reason for how these things work is essentially the same for why only certain people can cast spells. Scrolls are pre-cast magic spells, the same way that a wizard’s prepared spells are pre-cast – both just need an activating set of components to release.

The difference is that for a scroll, the energy to be unleashed is contained within the scroll, not within one’s self the way it is for a wizard. But even with that, the fact remains that releasing the energy still requires utilizing one’s mana in a certain degree. Reading the words on a scroll isn’t enough anymore than an ordinary person using the right verbal and somatic components is enough. A scroll user has to reach out with their own mana and unleash, via reading the scroll, the energy contained within it (note that this requires a physical, or extremely near, connection in order to bridge your mana to its energy, hence why you can’t read a scroll from across the room and activate it from there).

Spell Trigger: A spell trigger magic item, like a wand, is essentially utilizing the same process as a spell completion magic item, but even simpler. In this case, you don’t need any particular method of being able to utilize your mana, so long as you can use it at all. You just “flex” your mana in the proper manner (something done with just a bit less than a conscious thought), touching it to the energy of the magic item, and say a word to activate it. Hence why you need, as the description says, “No gestures or spell finishing is needed, just a special knowledge of spellcasting that an appropriate character would know, and a single word that must be spoken.”

Use Activated Magic Items: These are often magic weapons, or other magic items where their magic is something that affects only the item itself, not the wielder or the person the wielder directs them against. In this case, the magic energy sealed inside a +1 longsword is simply making it sharper and better balanced (which translates to the +1 bonus to damage and attack rolls, respectively).

These use activated magic items are built to affect themselves, so the question of needing to “plug in” to creatures isn’t needed nor built into them, though sometimes they can have other functions built in, such as command word-activated abilities (see below).

Other such items can only be used in certain ways, such as potions. Potions work whenever they’re drunk, and as such effectively have a slot of “digestive system,” save that they’re charged magic items with just one charge, and so are expended when used.

Slot-less Magic Items: Some beneficial magic items affect characters without a body slot, which seems to fly in the face of everything listed above. How is it that you can wear just two rings when you can have a dozen ioun stones circling your head? The answer here is simple; these magic items are the equivalent of using a “wireless” connection, as opposed to how most magic items need to manually plug into you.

Now, it’s more difficult and more expensive to build magic items in this manner, as laid down in the Pathfinder rules. Notice how the section on creating magic items says (footnote 3), “An item that does not take up one of the spaces on a body costs double.” If you want to build a magic item that’s “wireless” to its user, and so doesn’t take up one of their mana sockets, you can, but it’ll cost more.

Saving Throws

Saving throws make perfect sense in the context of rules construction – characters need a way to avoid or reduce the damage from attacks that aren’t a question of hits penetrating armor. But from an in-game context, they’re difficult to reconcile. When was the last time you read a fantasy story and it had someone just sort of shake it off when someone tried to use a spell on them? Saving throws need better definition. Let’s break it down by type of save.

Reflex save: A reflex save is entirely the product of getting out of the way; it has nothing to do with magical interaction whatsoever. You’re simply trying to avoid the brunt of the impact. Note that characters with the evasion and improved evasion abilities don’t have some supernatural method of avoiding the unavoidable – they’re simply so well versed in dodging that they can do it far and away better than anyone else.

Similarly, a natural 1 on this save – which possibly damages your items – isn’t any particular failing of your mana. It’s just that you dodged so poorly that you put your gear into harm’s way.

Fortitude save: A fort save is where you’re trying to bodily shake off an effect. This one is tricky from the perspective of in-game verisimilitude because sometimes this doesn’t involve anything supernatural (e.g. recovering from an illness) whereas othertimes it does (e.g. a baleful polymorph spell).

Shouldn't that be "I do gets saving throw?"

When the effect is against any sort of spell – or spell-like or supernatural ability – a fort save isn’t a measurement of shaking off a physical ailment, but rather deals with using your mana to shake off a magical one. Your mana is part of you, remember, and so therefore reacts when some magical ability tries to affect you or alter you, the same way that antibodies kick in when germs try to affect or alter you. It may not always succeed, the way you may not always fight off an illness, but it does try.

The caveat that a natural 1 on a save against a damaging effect also damages your items usually applies only to magical effects that require a fort save (e.g. disintegrate), in which case it represents a total failure of your mana to fight it off the effect, and allowing it to also spread across the items on your person (see below).

Will save: In contrast to the others, virtually all will saves are against magical effects of some sort. And just as with fort saves, these are representations of your mana attempting to battle off an outside effect, save that in this case it’s affecting your mind and not your body.

Beyond what the saves themselves mean, however, are some ancillary issues to consider in regards to saves.

Biotemplate: The concept of a “biotemplate” is introduced in The Mind Unveiled, by Dreamscarred Press. Not a creature template, the biotemplate is an in-game concept to help explain some of the corner cases that come up regarding saving throws and similar issues.

A person’s biotemplate is their subconscious image of who they are and what they look like. It’s the proverbial mind’s eye that gazes upon itself. In other words, the biotemplate is how you perceive yourself to be. This is a purely unconscious sense of self-recognition; it’s not how you think of yourself, but rather your manifest sense of self and identity.

This sounds like so much mumbo-jumbo, but it provides the rationale for certain things that otherwise wouldn’t make any sense. Why is it, for example, that you can disintegrate an unattended (non-magical) item without it receiving a save, but it receives one when someone is holding it? Yes, you can say that they’re actively trying to move it out of the way and avoid the spell…but that’s a hard explanation to make work. The save is “fort partial,” meaning that it’s not a question of dodging. So then why does it get a save when you hold it?

The answer is that because, when you’re holding it, you’re integrating that item into your sense of self. It becomes part of your biotemplate. Your sense of who you are includes what you’re wearing and what you have on your person (real-world examples of people thinking this way are quite prevalent – it’s why people say “he hit me!” when you get into a car accident, instead of “he hit my car while I was in it!”).

But just because you’ve accepted an item into your biotemplate, why does that make it possible for it to reduce the effect of a disintegrate spell? Because, as mentioned previously, your mana is trying to fight the spell off.

That’s right, your mana extends to more than just your physical self. It encompasses you and, to a degree, the things you wear. Your mana, being metaphysical, extends beyond (only very slightly beyond) your body, to also envelope the things on you.

There’s a word for the part of your mana that extends beyond your skin: it’s called your aura.

Your biotemplate also handles other things, which usually fly under the proverbial radar in most games, regarding your sense of self. When you take massive fire damage, your hair is probably burnt off, but a healing spell restores it to exactly the length it was before. Why exactly that length? Because that’s the length that it has in your biotemplate, so that’s the blueprint for the magic when it puts you back together. If you want to keep your scars when you’re healed, you will, because they’re part of your biotemplate, unlike the scars you’d prefer to lose.

Spell Resistance

Spell resistance is the evolution of how your external mana – that is, your aura – can defend you from incoming spells and spell-like abilities. Instead of offering a weakened passive resistance, it’s strengthened to the point of being able to actively stop spells before they can penetrate your aura and reach your body.

It’s not a coincidence that creatures with a great degree of inherent magic, such as demons or dragons, tend to have spell resistance – they have a greater system of mana within them, so that spills over into a greater aura protecting them without.

Next Time: How spells levels are recognized in-game!

It’s A Kind of Magic, Part 1 – Definitions and Application

May 7, 2011

One of the thorniest areas of Pathfinder – and indeed, all role-playing games – is the level of abstraction that it presents in various aspects of the game. Much of the time, this involves sacrificing “realism,” so that the game remains playable, such as eschewing wound tracking and hit locations in favor of hit points.

Another level of abstraction, however, relies on the simple assumptions we make about the in-game nature of how things work. Sean K. Reynolds – now a developer at Paizo Publishing – once wrote (in one of his immortal rants) “it should be clear that if there is no listed answer to a question, the answer almost certainly is the same as asking the question about a human.”

Now, to be fair, he was writing this in regards to creatures. But the broader point – that unless told otherwise, we should assume things work in the game world as they do in the real world – is still clear. The major problem with this assumption is that there are some things to which we have no real-world analogue on which to draw.

Magic is one of those.

Ever notice how there's no spell that will let you draw a rabbit out of a hat?

For all its importance and prevalence within the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game, and D&D before it, the question of exactly how magic works has been startlingly ignored. This isn’t to say that explanations haven’t been given; just that they’ve been inadequate to the more fundamental question of how it is that people and creatures are able to use magic at all. We’re usually just told about the differences between divine and arcane magic, and perhaps given a brief statement that the exact nature of it is less important than the fact that it works at all, and that’s it.

Like all flimsy explanations, these break down if you start to seriously examine them. So what we need is a stable, working definition that will tell us what exactly magic is, how it’s used, and how creatures interact with it. Hopefully, this will help you create a campaign world with greater verisimilitude regarding one of its most important aspects.

The Basics

The first thing we need to do to define magic is properly restate what it is. So let’s lay down some terms and definitions.

Magic – Magic is energy that can be shaped and used to bring about various effects.

Spell – A spell is a specific quantity of energy, external to the one manipulating it, that has been utilized for a specific effect.

Spellcasting – Spellcasting is the act of gathering energies that are external to the spellcaster and shaping them into a desired result. This includes the use of supernatural and spell-like abilities.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s look at the classical division of magic in Pathfinder and D&D: arcane and divine magic.

The difference between arcane and divine magic is that the latter comes from the gods, while the former is not granted by any specific entity or power. That is, the energy that’s being manipulated when casting a spell has different sources for an arcane spellcaster than it does for a divine spellcaster.

A divine spellcaster is simply receiving energy directly from their god. A deity is so incredibly powerful, is such a font of energy, that they can grant that energy to those who ask for it. Of course, divine spellcasters not only have to work to be able to handle manipulating greater and greater quantities of energy (see below), but they also need to have their god’s trust so that they’ll have it granted to them to begin with.

Arcane spellcasters, on the other hand, are simply manipulating ambient energy. This raises the question of where exactly that ambient energy comes from to begin with. While this is determined by the GM, the most likely answers are the most obvious ones: planar apertures, solar radiation, leftover energy from the moment of Creation, and others all kickout a supply of energy that is, for all intents and purposes, infinite, leaving arcane spellcasters with a power source for their spells.

Methods of Use

Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of exactly how it is that mortals can interact with these energies at all. For this, we need a better explanation. Luckily, there’s one – or at least the basics of one – to be found in Green Ronin’s Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide.

One of the ideas laid out in the book is that the system of magic items on the body works because all characters have magic item “chakras,” or specific points on the body that magic items interact with. This is an idea we’ll return to in more detail next time. Instead, we’re going to take the basics of this idea and reinterpret them to suit our needs.

People are able to interact with the energies that are used in magic because they have a sort of metaphysical circulatory system within them. The same way that blood flows through veins and capillaries, and ki flows through chakra points, the external energies of magic can be absorbed and internalized by living (and unliving) creatures.

To avoid the cumbersome phrase “magic circulatory system” throughout the rest of this series of articles, let’s replace that with something simpler: mana. To reiterate, a person’s mana is their inner ability to absorb magical energies.

The key to this idea is that while all people have mana within them, it is fairly weak when they’re growing up, but can be exercised like a muscle. In other words, most people don’t start off as being able to absorb enough energy to be able to produce any magical effects…but some people strengthen their mana to the point where they’re able to do so.

What are you if you lose your spellbook? A spell-schnook!

Given that, the basic system of magic in Pathfinder is as follows. All people have the ability to manipulate external energies, but only some actualize that potential (in other words, only some take levels in spellcasting classes). This potential is realized by exercising their mana to the point where it lets them absorb enough energy – either from ambient sources or from gods – to be able to manipulate it to produce tangible results.

This is the reason why characters learn their spells in a step-progression. They slowly become better able to absorb larger quantities of energy, which can then be used to cast more, and more powerful, spells.

This salient point explains why, in-game, a wizard can make a bunch of gestures while babbling something and waving around a glass rod and some fur and conjure a lightning bolt…while a rogue who can perfectly replicate the words, gestures, and has his own fur and glass rod won’t accomplish anything. One has mana enough to gather and focus the necessary energies to actually create something, channeling it with the various components; the other is just (quite literally) going through the motions.

It should be noted that increasing one’s mana – while there are many different methods for doing so – can be used to two different ends. That is, the energies from the gods is different enough from the ambient energies of the multiverse that training your mana to use one doesn’t help you with using the other. Hence why a high priest can absorb a great deal of divine energy bestowed upon him by his god, but cannot take enough from the surrounding environment to cast even a single cantrip.

Mana Exercises

There are different methods whereby a character actively increases their mana; this is one of the main in-game differences between spellcasting classes. Note that the different methods are all metaphysical in nature; none require any sort of physical exercises.

Devotion – Used by clerics, druids, paladins, rangers, inquisitors, and adepts.

Devotion involves rigorous prayers, strengthening faith, and other exercises that bring you closer to the metaphysical nature of a deity. In this way, you increase your mana to accept the energies of your god, and can thus cast greater spells.

Study – Used by wizards, alchemists, magi, and summoners.

The use of study involves examining the “science” of how magic works, which also includes formulas by which the user better attunes himself to the methods necessary to draw in the surrounding energy. In understanding these forces, they also attune themselves to them more closely, though they may not necessarily realize that this is what they’re doing.

Imbuement – Used by oracles and witches.

This is one of the rarest forms of learning to manipulate magic. In this case, your mana is augmented by an external force acting upon you over time. For oracles, this comes from the gods (and thus is only suitable for divine spellcasting), while for the witch it comes from their mysterious patron, acting through their familiar.

Biology – Used by sorcerers and monsters.

For some creatures, the development of mana happens completely naturally as part of the maturation process. This is why many creatures have supernatural and spell-like abilities; because their mana naturally grows great enough to use them. Sorcerers are similar, in that something about their heritage gives them the genes to naturally grow in magical power over time. Note that this doesn’t need to be the result of their family having interbred with some creature; for “bloodlines” like Arcane or Destined, the sorcerer is – for whatever reason – possessed of a mana that grows of its own accord.

Accidentally – Used by bards and others.

Finally, it’s possible to strengthen your mana without realizing you’re doing it. The same way a person who enjoys playing sports gets good exercise as a by-product of what they do, some people just exercise their mana completely unintentionally. Bards are the best example of this, as they grow in magical power simply by traveling around, learning new songs and dances, and being swayed by art. This opens them to the arcane energies of the universe, and though they likely have little formal schooling in the ways of magic, they find themselves able to manipulate it.

This is also the case, albeit much less so, for other classes that have some degree of spell-like or supernatural abilities. The rogue who takes the minor magic rogue talent, for example, has unintentionally figured out how to absorb and utilize a tiny bit of energy in a specific manner.

Casting a Spell

One thing to note is that this energy, whether ambient or god-given, is gathered ahead of time, before a spell is cast. This is encapsulated in the one hour that spellcasters must prepare after they get eight hours of rest. During this hour, they’re absorbing the necessary energies.

I'm totally telling my GM that this is what it looks like when my character is preparing his spells for the day.

Preparatory casters, such as wizards, allocate their energies completely ahead of time towards specific ends. Spontaneous casters, by contrast, can pick and choose how to use those energies when they utilize them, but only know how to do so in a set amount of ways.

Finally, the act of casting a spell is the act of actually shaping the energy you’ve gathered. The components involved – whether somatic, verbal, material, or foci – are part of the esoteric process of shaping these metaphysical energies into physical results.


It’s worthwhile to ask why – if their energy sources are different, and they require different ways of shaping one’s mana to use – do arcane and divine spells interact with each other so completely?

To answer this, let’s look at the different classes of fires. Some fires are caused because organic materials are ignited, others are certain metals that autoignite in the air. However, both produce flames that operate according to the same rules of combustion.

That’s how it is with different types of magic, also. The sources are different, the methods of gathering are different, but when the metaphysical energy is shaped into physical results, they’re subject to the same laws of reality. Hence why spells of one type can affect those of another.

And Lastly…

While it should go without saying, it’s worth mentioning again that all of the above is simply one possible explanation for the how’s and why’s of magic in your Pathfinder game. If you’ve already come up with a series of answers that work better, then definitely stick with that. This series of articles is simply meant to offer an in-game explanation for the meta-game mechanics of magic for people who haven’t generated one for their campaign.

Next Time: How magic items work, the nature of saving throws, and more!