Whether it comes in the form of mystic artifacts, mysterious creatures, or wizards weaving strange spells, magic brings fantasy and wonder to Pathfinder. This chapter explains how spells work and how spellcasters prepare and cast their spells.
With special gestures and utterances, a spellcaster can call forth mystic energies, warp the mind, protect themself against danger, or even create something from nothing. Each class has its own method of learning, preparing, and casting spells, and every individual spell produces a specific effect, so learning new spells gives a spellcaster an increasing array of options to accomplish their goals.
Tradition and School
The fundamental building blocks of magic are the magical traditions and the schools of magic. The four traditions are arcane, divine, occult, and primal. A spell’s magical tradition can vary, because many spells can be cast using different traditions. A spell’s school, on the other hand, is intrinsic to the spell and establishes what the spell is capable of. Abjuration spells, for example, can raise protective wards, enchantment spells can change thoughts, and evocation spells can create blasts of fire.
All spells, all magic items, and most other magical effects fall into one of the eight schools of magic. These schools broadly define what the magic is capable of. Every spell has the trait corresponding to its school. Some spellcasters, like specialist wizards, have particular acumen with a certain school of magic.
Abjurations protect and ward. They create barriers that keep out attacks, effects, or even certain types of creatures. They also create effects that harm trespassers or banish interlopers.
Conjuration spells transport creatures via teleportation, create an object, or bring a creature or object from somewhere else (typically from another plane) to follow your commands.
Conjuration spells often have the teleportation trait, and the creatures summoned by conjuration spells have the summoned trait.
Divinations allow you to learn the secrets of the present, past, and future. They bestow good fortune, grant you the ability to perceive remote locations, and reveal secret knowledge.
Divinations often have the detection trait if they find something, the prediction trait if they grant you insight about what might happen in the future, the revelation trait if they show things as they truly are, or the scrying trait if they let you perceive another location.
Enchantments affect the minds and emotions of other creatures—sometimes to influence and control them, and other times to bolster them to greater heights of courage. Enchantment spells almost always have the mental trait, and many have the emotion trait or the fear trait.
Evocations capture magical energy and then shape it to harm your foes or protect your allies. Evocation spells often have a trait that comes from the type of damage they deal, such as acid, cold, fire, force, or sonic.
Illusions create the semblance of something real, fooling the eyes, ears, and other senses. They almost always have the mental trait, and depending on how the illusion is perceived, they might also have the auditory or visual trait.
Necromancy spells harness the power of life and death. They can sap life essence or sustain creatures with life-saving healing. Necromancy spells often have the curse, death, healing, negative, or positive traits.
Transmutation spells make alterations to or transform the physical form of a creature or object. The morph and polymorph traits appear primarily in transmutation spells.
Characters of spellcasting classes can cast a certain number of spells each day; the spells you can cast in a day are referred to as spell slots. At 1st level, a character has only a small number of 1st-level spell slots per day, but as you advance in level, you gain more spell slots and new slots for higher-level spells. A spell’s level indicates its overall power, from 1 to 10.
If you’re a prepared spellcaster—such as a cleric, druid, or wizard—you must spend time each day preparing spells for that day. At the start of your daily preparations, you select a number of spells of different spell levels determined by your character level and class. Your spells remain prepared until you cast them or until you prepare spells again.
Each prepared spell is expended after a single casting, so if you want to cast a particular spell more than once in a day, you need to prepare that spell multiple times. The exceptions to this rule are spells with the cantrip trait; once you prepare a cantrip, you can cast it as many times as you want until the next time you prepare spells. See page 300 for more information on cantrips.
You might gain an ability that allows you to swap prepared spells or perform other aspects of preparing spells at different times throughout the day, but only your daily preparation counts for the purpose of effects that last until the next time you prepare spells.
If you’re a spontaneous spellcaster—such as a bard or a sorcerer—you choose which spell you’re using a spell slot for at the moment you decide to cast it. This provides you with more freedom in your spellcasting, but you have fewer spells in your spell repertoire, as determined by your character level and class. When you make your daily preparations, all your spell slots are refreshed, but you don’t get to change the spells in your repertoire.
Both prepared and spontaneous spellcasters can cast a spell at a higher spell level than that listed for the spell. This is called heightening the spell. A prepared spellcaster can heighten a spell by preparing it in a higher-level slot than its normal spell level, while a spontaneous spellcaster can heighten a spell by casting it using a higher-level spell slot, so long as they know the spell at that level (see Heightened Spontaneous Spells below). When you heighten your spell, the spell’s level increases to match the higher level of the spell slot you’ve prepared it in or used to cast it. This is useful for any spell, because some effects, such as counteracting, depend on the spell’s level.
In addition, many spells have additional specific benefits when they are heightened, such as increased damage. These extra benefits are described at the end of the spell’s stat block. Some heightened entries specify one or more levels at which the spell must be prepared or cast to gain these extra advantages. Each of these heightened entries states specifically which aspects of the spell change at the given level. Read the heightened entry only for the spell level you’re using or preparing; if its benefits are meant to include any of the effects of a lower-level heightened entry, those benefits will be included in the entry.
Other heightened entries give a number after a plus sign, indicating that heightening grants extra advantages over multiple levels. The listed effect applies for every increment of levels by which the spell is heightened above its lowest spell level, and the benefit is cumulative. For example, fireball says “Heightened (+1) The damage increases by 2d6.” Because fireball deals 6d6 fire damage at 3rd level, a 4th-level fireball would deal 8d6 fire damage, a 5th-level spell would deal 10d6 fire damage, and so on.
Heightened Spontaneous Spells
If you’re a spontaneous spellcaster, you must know a spell at the specific level that you want to cast it in order to heighten it. You can add a spell to your spell repertoire at more than a single level so that you have more options when casting it. For example, if you added fireball to your repertoire as a 3rd-level spell and again as a 5th-level spell, you could cast it as a 3rd-level or a 5th-level spell; however, you couldn’t cast it as a 4th-level spell.
Many spontaneous spellcasting classes provide abilities like the signature spells class feature, which allows you to cast a limited number of spells as heightened versions even if you know the spell at only a single level.
A cantrip is a special type of spell that’s weaker than other spells but can be used with greater freedom and flexibility. The title of a cantrip’s stat block says “Cantrip” instead of “Spell.” Casting a cantrip doesn’t use up your spell slots; you can cast a cantrip at will, any number of times per day. If you’re a prepared caster, you have a number of cantrip spell slots that you use to prepare your cantrips. You can’t prepare a cantrip in any other slot.
A cantrip is always automatically heightened to half your level, rounded up. For a typical spellcaster, this means its level is equal to the highest level of spell slot you have.
Certain spells are natural to your character, typically coming from your ancestry or a magic item rather than your class. You can cast your innate spells even if you aren’t a member of a spellcasting class. The ability that gives you an innate spell tells you how often you can cast it—usually once per day—and its magical tradition. Innate spells are refreshed during your daily preparations. Innate cantrips are cast at will and automatically heightened as normal for cantrips (see Cantrips on page 300) unless otherwise specified.
You’re always trained in spell attack rolls and spell DCs for your innate spells, even if you aren’t otherwise trained in spell attack rolls or spell DCs. If your proficiency in spell attack rolls or spell DCs is expert or better, apply that proficiency to your innate spells, too. You use your Charisma modifier as your spellcasting ability modifier for innate spells unless otherwise specified.
If you have an innate spell, you can cast it, even if it’s not of a spell level you can normally cast. This is especially common for monsters, which might be able to cast innate spells far beyond what a character of the same level could use.
You can’t use your spell slots to cast your innate spells, but you might have an innate spell and also be able to prepare or cast the same spell through your class. You also can’t heighten innate spells, but some abilities that grant innate spells might give you the spell at a higher level than its base level or change the level at which you cast the spell.
The casting of a spell can range from a simple word of magical might that creates a fleeting effect to a complex process taking minutes or hours to cast and producing a long-term impact. Casting a Spell is a special activity that takes a number of actions defined by the spell. When you Cast a Spell, your spellcasting creates obvious visual manifestations of the gathering magic, although feats such as Conceal Spell and Melodious Spell can help hide such manifestations or otherwise prevent observers from noticing that you are casting.
Cast a Spell
You cast a spell you have prepared or in your repertoire. Casting a Spell is a special activity that takes a variable number of actions depending on the spell, as listed in each spell’s stat block. As soon as the spellcasting actions are complete, the spell effect occurs.
Some spells are cast as a reaction or free action. In those cases, you Cast the Spell as a reaction or free action (as appropriate) instead of as an activity. Such cases will be noted in the spell’s stat block—for example, “[reaction] verbal.”
Long Casting Times Some spells take minutes or hours to cast. The Cast a Spell activity for these spells includes a mix of the listed spell components, but it’s not necessary to break down which one you’re providing at a given time. You can’t use other actions or reactions while casting such a spell, though at the GM’s discretion, you might be able to speak a few sentences. As with other activities that take a long time, these spells have the exploration trait, and you can’t cast them in an encounter. If combat breaks out while you’re casting one, your spell is disrupted (see Disrupted and Lost Spells on page 303).
Spell Components Each spell lists the spell components required to cast it after the action icons or text, such as “[three-actions] material, somatic, verbal." The spell components, described in detail below, add traits and requirements to the Cast a Spell activity. If you can’t provide the components, you fail to Cast the Spell.
- Material (manipulate)
- Somatic (manipulate)
- Verbal (concentrate)
- Focus (manipulate)
Disrupted and Lost Spells Some abilities and spells can disrupt a spell, causing it to have no effect and be lost. When you lose a spell, you’ve already expended the spell slot, spent the spell’s costs and actions, and used the Cast a Spell activity. If a spell is disrupted during a Sustain a Spell action, the spell immediately ends. The full rules for disrupting actions appear on page 462.
A spell description lists the components required to Cast the Spell. For most spells, the number of components is equal to the number of actions you must spend to Cast the Spell. Each component adds certain traits to the Cast a Spell activity, and some components have special requirements. The components that appear in this book are listed below.
A material component is a bit of physical matter consumed in the casting of the spell. The spell gains the manipulate trait and requires you to have a free hand to retrieve and manipulate a material component. That component is expended in the casting (even if the spell is disrupted).
Except in extreme circumstances, you can assume all common components are included in a material component pouch.
A somatic component is a specific hand movement or gesture that generates a magical nexus. The spell gains the manipulate trait and requires you to make gestures. You can use this component while holding something in your hand, but not if you are restrained or otherwise unable to gesture freely.
Spells that require you to touch the target require a somatic component. You can do so while holding something as long as part of your hand is able to touch the target (even if it’s through a glove or gauntlet).
A verbal component is a vocalization of words of power. You must speak them in a strong voice, so it’s hard to conceal that you’re Casting a Spell. The spell gains the concentrate trait. You must be able to speak to provide this component.
A focus is an object that funnels the magical energy of the spell. The spell gains the manipulate trait and requires you to either have a free hand to retrieve the focus listed in the spell or already be holding the focus in your hand. As part of Casting the Spell, you retrieve the focus (if necessary), manipulate it, and can stow it again if you so choose.
Foci tend to be expensive, and you need to acquire them in advance to Cast the Spell.
Ranges, Areas, and Targets
Spells with a range can affect targets, create areas, or make things appear only within that range. Most spell ranges are measured in feet, though some can stretch over miles, reach anywhere on the planet, or go even farther!
A spell with a range of touch requires you to physically touch the target. You use your unarmed reach to determine whether you can touch the creature. You can usually touch the target automatically, though the spell might specify that the target can attempt a saving throw or that you must attempt a spell attack roll. If an ability increases the range of a touch spell, start at 0 feet and increase from there.
Sometimes a spell has an area, which can be a burst, cone, emanation, or line. The method of measuring these areas can be found on page 456. If the spell originates from your position, the spell has only an area; if you can cause the spell’s area to appear farther away from you, the spell has both a range and an area.
Some spells allow you to directly target a creature, an object, or something that fits a more specific category. The target must be within the spell’s range, and you must be able to see it (or otherwise perceive it with a precise sense) to target it normally. At the GM’s discretion, you can attempt to target a creature you can’t see, as described in Detecting Creatures on pages 465–467. If you fail to target a particular creature, this doesn’t change how the spell affects any other targets the spell might have.
If you choose a target that isn’t valid, such as if you thought a vampire was a living creature and targeted it with a spell that can target only living creatures, your spell fails to target that creature. If a creature starts out as a valid target but ceases to be one during a spell’s duration, the spell typically ends, but the GM might decide otherwise in certain situations.
Spells that affect multiple creatures in an area can have both an Area entry and a Targets entry. A spell that has an area but no targets listed usually affects all creatures in the area indiscriminately.
Some spells restrict you to willing targets. A player can declare their character a willing or unwilling target at any time, regardless of turn order or their character’s condition (such as when a character is paralyzed, unconscious, or even dead).
Line of Effect
You usually need an unobstructed path to the target of a spell, the origin point of an area, or the place where you create something with a spell. More information on line of effect can be found on page 457.
The duration of a spell is how long the spell effect lasts. Spells that last for more than an instant have a Duration entry. A spell might last until the start or end of a turn, for some number of rounds, for minutes, or even longer. If a spell’s duration is given in rounds, the number of rounds remaining decreases by 1 at the start of each of the spellcaster’s turns, ending when the duration reaches 0.
Some spells have effects that remain even after the spell’s magic is gone. Any ongoing effect that isn’t part of the spell’s duration entry isn’t considered magical. For instance, a spell that creates a loud sound and has no duration might deafen someone for a time, even permanently. This deafness couldn’t be counteracted because it is not itself magical (though it might be cured by other magic, such as restore senses).
If a spell’s caster dies or is incapacitated during the spell’s duration, the spell remains in effect till its duration ends. You might need to keep track of the caster’s initiative after they stopped being able to act to monitor spell durations.
If the spell’s duration is “sustained,” it lasts until the end of your next turn unless you use a Sustain a Spell action on that turn to extend the duration of that spell.
SUSTAIN A SPELL [one-action] CONCENTRATE
Requirements You have at least one spell active with a sustained duration, and you are not fatigued.
Choose one spell with a sustained duration you have in effect. The duration of that spell continues until the end of your next turn. Some spells might have slightly different or expanded effects if you sustain them. Sustaining a Spell for more than 10 minutes (100 rounds) ends the spell and makes you fatigued unless the spell lists a different maximum duration (such as “sustained up to 1 minute” or “sustained up to 1 hour”).
If your Sustain a Spell action is disrupted, the spell immediately ends.
If a spell’s duration says it lasts until your next daily preparations, on the next day you can refrain from preparing a new spell in that spell’s slot. (If you are a spontaneous caster, you can instead expend a spell slot during your preparations.) Doing so extends the spell’s duration until your next daily preparations. This effectively Sustains the Spell over a long period of time. If you prepare a new spell in the slot (or don’t expend a spell slot), the spell ends. You can’t do this if the spell didn’t come from one of your spell slots. If you are dead or otherwise incapacitated at the 24-hour mark after the time you Cast the Spell or the last time you extended its duration, the spell ends. Spells with an unlimited duration last until counteracted or Dismissed. You don’t need to keep a spell slot open for these spells.
Some spells can be dismissed, ending the duration early. This requires the caster or target to use the Dismiss action.
Spells that require a target to attempt a save to resist some or all of the spell’s effects have a Saving Throw entry. This entry presents the type of save for quick reference, and specific details appear in the spell description. Whenever a spell allows a saving throw, it uses the caster’s spell DC.
Basic Saving Throws
If a spell’s Saving Throw entry specifies a “basic” saving throw, the spell’s potential effects all relate to the damage listed in the spell’s description. The target takes no damage on a critical success, half damage on a success, full damage on a failure, or double damage on a critical failure. The rules for basic saving throws are found on page 449.
Some spells require you to succeed at a spell attack roll to affect the target. This is usually because they require you to precisely aim a ray or otherwise make an accurate attack. A spell attack roll is compared to the target’s AC. Spell attack rolls benefit from any bonuses or penalties to attack rolls, including your multiple attack penalty, but not any special benefits or penalties that apply only to weapon or unarmed attacks. Spell attacks don’t deal any damage beyond what’s listed in the spell description.
In rare cases, a spell might have you make some other type of attack, such as a weapon Strike. Such attacks use the normal rules and attack bonus for that type of attack.
Sometimes you need to identify a spell, especially if its effects are not obvious right away. If you notice a spell being cast, and you have prepared that spell or have it in your repertoire, you automatically know what the spell is, including the level to which it is heightened.
If you want to identify a spell but don’t have it prepared or in your repertoire, you must spend an action on your turn to attempt to identify it using Recall Knowledge. You typically notice a spell being cast by seeing its visual manifestations or hearing its verbal casting components. Identifying long-lasting spells that are already in place requires using Identify Magic instead of Recall Knowledge because you don’t have the advantage of watching the spell being cast.
Some spells, such as dispel magic, can be used to eliminate the effects of other spells. At least one creature, object, or manifestation of the spell you are trying to counteract must be within range of the spell that you are using. You attempt a counteract check (page 458) using your spellcasting ability modifier and your proficiency bonus for spell attack rolls.
Sometimes spell effects prevent a target from using hostile actions, or the spell ends if a creature uses any hostile actions. A hostile action is one that can harm or damage another creature, whether directly or indirectly, but not one that a creature is unaware could cause harm. For instance, lobbing a fireball into a crowd would be a hostile action, but opening a door and accidentally freeing a horrible monster would not be. The GM is the final arbitrator of what constitutes a hostile action.
If a spell is meant to respond only to certain events or under certain conditions—such as magic mouth—it might require you to set a trigger. This is a simple sensory cue that causes the spell to activate. The spell activates as a reaction when the spell’s sensor observes something that fits its trigger. Depending on the spell, the trigger might be the presence of a type of creature, such as “red-haired dwarven women,” or it could be an observed action, such as “whenever someone enters the spell’s area.”
Disguises and illusions fool the spell as long as they appear to match its parameters. For a spell to detect something visually, the spell’s origin point must have line of sight. Darkness doesn’t prevent this, but invisibility does, as does a successful Stealth check to Hide (against the spell’s DC). For auditory detection, line of sight isn’t necessary, though the sound must be audible at the spell’s origin point. A Stealth check to Sneak can fool the sensor.
Spells that create walls list the depth, length, and height of the wall, also specifying how it can be positioned. Some walls can be shaped; you can manipulate the wall into a form other than a straight line, choosing its contiguous path square by square. The path of a shaped wall can’t enter the same space more than once, but it can double back so one section is adjacent to another section of the wall.
Each spell uses the following format. Entries appear only when applicable, so not all spells will have every entry described here. The spell’s name line also lists the type of spell if it’s a cantrip or focus spell, as well as the level.
Cast: The number of actions required to Cast the Spell are listed here. Spells that can be cast during a single turn have the appropriate icon, as do those that can be cast as a free action or a reaction. Spells that take longer to cast list the time required, such as “1 minute.” After this, the spell’s components are listed. If Casting the Spell has a cost, requirements, or a trigger, that information is also listed in this section. A cost includes any money, valuable materials, or other resources that must be expended to cast the spell.
Range, Area, and Targets: This entry lists the range of the spell, the area it affects, and the targets it can affect, if any. If none of these entries are present, the spell affects only the caster.
Saving Throw and Duration: If a spell allows the target to attempt a saving throw, the type of save appears here. Any details on the particular results and timing of the save appear in the text unless the entry specifies a basic saving throw, which follows the rules found on page 449. If the spell requires a save only under certain circumstances or at a certain time, this entry is omitted, since the text needs to explain it in more detail. A spell that doesn’t list a duration takes place instantaneously, and anything created by it persists after the spell.
A horizontal line follows saving throws and duration, and the effects of the spell are described after this line. This section might also detail the possible results of a saving throw: critical success, success, failure, and critical failure.
Heightened (level) If the spell can be heightened, the effects of heightening it appear at the end of the stat block.