Incantations

Incantations, like rituals, are elaborate ceremonies designed to bring about powerful effects. However, while rituals require a caster level and accomplish their feats through gestures, chanting, and the use of expensive components, incantations have no required caster level and could involve chanting, gesturing, dancing, building elaborate machines, sacrificing gnomes under a full moon, carving the name of god onto a stone and dropping it into a bottomless well, or any number of other possible conditions.

Incantations are a completely different type of magic from anything else presented on this site. Where other magic uses caster levels and spell points, incantations use skill checks. Where other magic is reliable, broad, and generally carries no risk for the caster, incantations are often costly, dangerous, and very specific in what they accomplish. There are no class requirements to using most incantations, and virtually anyone can use an incantation if they are willing to pay the high cost of success and risk the even higher cost of failure.

The Role of Incantations

More so than any other form of magic presented on this site, incantations are almost completely defined by their role in the campaign.

Rituals and Advanced Talents are both designed to be player driven forms of advanced magic: if a player possess the planeshift ritual and has the gold to cast it, he may sojourn the planes as often as he sees fit. With an incantation, on the other hand, a player may only know how to visit a specific plane and might only be able to do so one day a year or only when they fulfill a special requirement, such as holding the heart of a recently slain black dragon. Using an incantation is often a very special event, and entire quests and adventures could revolve around performing—or stopping—an incantation from being used. Usually, incantations serve one of three purposes: plot device, party aid, and flavor.

Plot Device: Incantations are often very specific, both in effect and requirement. Through incantations, a GM can allow the party to raise the dead, travel across worlds, or speak to spirits in ways that don’t upset the rest of the game world. Alternately, villains could summon ancient demons, turn a city to stone, or place a king in an eternal slumber without necessarily being too high level for the party to handle. No matter what the story demands, an incantation can be crafted to fit the requirement.

Party Aid: Sometimes a party lacks something the GM feels they need. This could be a method of healing or tracking, a means for long-range communication, or a party scout. Through incantations, a GM can give a party new abilities that change the way they play, from giving them the ability to summon a spirit scout, to letting them heal their wounds at night without need for the Life sphere. In this way, incantations can become a treasure more valuable than gold and definitely worth a quest or two to acquire.

Flavor: Incantations allow a GM to customize the place of magic in their world, mixing setting, plot, and character together in ways other magic systems simply can’t contain. In the case of low-magic worlds or horror-themed games, incantations could even completely replace other magic systems, adding a sense of wonder and danger to magic that extends beyond what many consider ‘traditional’ gameplay. Indeed, incantations needn’t even strictly be magic; it is an easy thing to adapt the incantation rules to cover meditative trances, risky medical procedures, or the creation of steam-powered technological wonders, if that is the feel a particular world demands.

Discovering Incantations

While rituals and spells have clear-cut rules for player-conducted research, there are no universal rules for discovering incantations, as each incantation is something wholly unique unto itself. Players may discover an incantation in an ancient library, as part of the rites of a hidden temple, in an old nursery rhyme or children’s tale, or among a blacksmith’s notes detailing his last, greatest creation. Incantations might be found as treasure or might require the party to quest in search of secret knowledge.

Using Incantations

To use an incantation, a creature must meet all of its included criteria. While the exact rules and requirements differ from incantation to incantation, every incantation has the following basic components:

Casting Time: Every incantation has a casting time, which could range from a matter of minutes to several days or more.

Components: Most incantations require some variety of components, such as focus, material, somatic, and verbal components. In addition, some require secondary performers (abbreviated SP in an incantation’s description).

Secondary Performers (or Secondary Casters): Incantations often require multiple participants to successfully complete them. However, only one participant can be the primary performer. Secondary performers can make skill checks in place of the primary performer. However, performers cannot use the aid another action to assist in required skill checks. Incantations can be performed with more performers than necessary, so if certain participants cannot continue, others can replace them.

Skill checks: Every incantation lists a series of skill checks that must be successfully made in order to complete the incantation. Each incantation lists how many successful checks are required to cast it. Unless otherwise specified, you make a skill check every 10 minutes; failing a check means the incantation takes an additional 10 minutes to complete. Often, an incantation’s required skill checks can be performed in any order. Occasionally, however, a particular sequence is required either in total or in part. In this case, the required skill checks will be labeled with “in order” in the incantation description.

Any of the checks listed after this label must be performed in the same sequence listed; any listed before this label may be performed in any order either before or after the entirety of the sequenced checks. For example, in the case of “Skill Checks Knowledge (Arcana) DC 20, 1 success; in order—Sense Motive DC 20, 1 success; Bluff DC 20, 3 successes; Survival DC 20, 3 successes,” you must make 1 Sense Motive check, followed by 3 Bluff checks, and then by 3 Survival checks. However, the lone Knowledge (Arcana) check may be performed either before the Sense Motive check or after the last Survival check.

Backlash and Failure: Many rituals include some sort of backlash that affects you whether the incantation was successful or not. In addition, if the caster fails two consecutive skill checks, the entire incantation fails. Failing to cast an incantation still expends all material components and always bestows additional consequences.

Failed Incantations

If two consecutive skill checks are unsuccessful—even if made by different performers—the incantation fails. If an effect is listed in an incantation’s description specifically for failure, it targets the performer that failed the second check (in addition to a possible backlash). There are many possible consequences for failure, with the most common listed below.

Attack: A summoned creature attacks you—and likely everyone else nearby.

Augment: Instead of destroying the target as it was supposed to, the incantation makes the target more powerful.

Betrayal: Though the incantation seems to succeed, the subject of the incantation—or even you—actually undergoes a dramatic alignment change. For the next 1d6 minutes, the subject’s alignment becomes the extreme opposite of what it was previously (for instance, lawful good becomes chaotic evil, or chaotic neutral becomes lawful neutral; a neutral subject randomly becomes lawful good, lawful evil, chaotic good, or chaotic evil). The subject generally tries to keep its new outlook a secret.

Damage: You or the target takes damage as the consequence of failure.

Death: Someone dies. This is usually you or the target. Some incantations allow a saving throw to avoid this consequence of failure.

Delusion: You believe the incantation worked, but actually, it had no effect—or a very different one from that intended.

Falsehood: The incantation (typically a divination) provides you with false results, but you believe it to be true.

Hostile Spell: You are targeted by a harmful effect, specified in the incantation’s description.

Mirrorcast: The incantation has the opposite effect of what was intended.

Reversal: The incantation affects you rather than the intended target.

Special Rules

Interrupting Incantations

Incantations take a long time to perform, but they aren’t as delicate and exacting as other forms of magic. You don’t provoke attacks of opportunity while performing them, and you can even pause the ritual for a short time in order to fight, use magic, or take other actions. However, for each round the incantation is interrupted, the DC of all subsequent skill checks to complete the performance increases by 1.

Time spent during the interruption of an incantation does not count toward its casting time.

Saving Throws

If an incantation allows a save, the formula to calculate the save is included in the incantation’s description.

Spell Resistance

When making magic skill checks to overcome spell resistance, divide the incantation’s skill check DC by 2 to find its effective MSB. (For opposed checks, use the default DC for the incantation’s sphere modified by any bonuses or penalties listed in the incantation for the opponent’s roll; divide this value by 2.) Use this value even if you are a caster.

Taking 10

As long as you are not threatened or distracted, you may take 10. However, incantations with backlash components or similarly harmful aspects count as threats, preventing you from taking 10. You may never take 20 when attempting to complete an incantation.

Creating New Incantations

While there are rules for player-driven research for both rituals and spellcrafting, creating new incantations is exclusively the realm of the GM (although it is possible for players to attempt the creation of an incantation under strict GM supervision). Creating new incantations can be a difficult balancing act: if an incantation is too difficult, too costly, or too dangerous, players may avoid using it altogether, while if an incantation is too easy, players may use it endlessly. Likewise, while some low-magic games leave the players with little option but incantations, in other games the players may have access to so many advanced talents and rituals that they needn’t rely on incantations except for the most pressing of circumstances. As such, judgment and common sense should always be used when creating new incantations; all numbers and values given below should be seen as guidelines rather than hard rules.

As a rule of thumb, each incantation should have at least one aspect (high DC, expensive component, extremely-specific effect or requirements, strong backlash or risk of failure) to discourage overuse; each use of an incantation should feel like a major event, if not the focus of its own adventure. While incantations may be as varied and unique as the GM desires, the following guidelines will help balance new incantations.

Determine Sphere

When creating an incantation, first decide which sphere or spheres it most thematically resembles. Each sphere has a specific DC associated with it that serves as the base skill check DC. If an incantation combines themes from multiple spheres, choose the most important one to determine the incantation’s base DC, and add 1/3 of the DC of the other spheres to the total DC.

Each summary below specifies the range, target, duration, and other aspects of an incantation associated with a particular sphere.

Alteration: Skill Check DC 32; Range Close; Target one creature; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Fortitude negates (or harmless); SR yes

Conjuration: Skill Check DC 30; Range Close; Target one creature; Duration hours; Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); SR yes (harmless)

Creation: Skill Check DC 30; Range Close; Target one 20 ft cube of matter; Duration hours; Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); SR yes (harmless)

Dark: Skill Check DC 30; Range Medium; Area 20 ft radius burst (or 1 person for meld); Duration minutes; Saving Throw none or Fortitude negates (harmless); SR no or yes (harmless)

Death: Skill Check DC 34; Range Close; Target one or more creatures or corpses; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Fortitude negates (or none); SR no

Destruction: Skill Check DC 32; Range Close; Area 5 ft wide bolt or 20 ft radius burst; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Reflex half; SR yes

Divination: Skill Check DC 30; Range long; Target personal; Duration minutes; Saving Throw none; SR no

Enhancement: Skill Check DC 32; Range Close; Target one creature or 20 cubic ft of matter; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Fortitude negates (or harmless); SR yes

Fate: Skill Check DC 32; Range medium; Area 5 ft wide bolt or 20 ft radius burst; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Reflex half; SR yes

Illusion: Skill Check DC 32; Range touch; Target one living creature or 20 cubic ft of matter; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will disbelief; SR yes

Life: Skill Check DC 32; Range medium; Target 1 creature; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Fortitude negates (harmless); SR yes (harmless)

Light: Skill Check DC 30; Range medium; Area 20 ft radius burst; Duration minutes; Saving Throw None; SR yes

Mind: Skill Check DC 32; Range close; Target one living creature; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will negates; SR yes

Nature: Skill Check DC 30; Range close; Area 20 ft radius burst; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Reflex negates; SR yes

Protection: Skill Check DC 32; Range close; Target one or more creatures, no two of which can be more than 30 ft apart; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); SR yes (harmless)

Telekinesis: Skill Check DC 32; Range close; Target one or more creatures or objects, no two of which can be more than 30 ft apart; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will negates; SR yes

Time: Skill Check DC 32; Range close; Target one or more creatures, no two of which can be more than 30 ft apart; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Fortitude negates; SR yes

War: Skill Check DC 32; Range close; Area 20 ft radius burst; Duration rounds; Saving Throw Fortitude negates (harmless); SR yes (harmless)

Warp: Skill Check DC 30; Range close; Target one creature; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Fortitude negates; SR yes

Weather: Skill Check DC 32; Range medium; Area 20 ft radius burst; Duration minutes; Saving Throw none; SR no

Modify DC

For the next step, determine what adjustments, if any, are required of the base DC, factoring in the specifics of your incantation (see Table: Modifying Incantations for a list of how certain factors change the skill check DC). Use this list as a guideline for modifications that aren’t listed, such as new backlash effects.

Table: Modifying Incantations

Factors Check DC Modifier
Skill Checks Requires checks involving more than one skill -1
Casting Time 1 hour between checks -1
Casting time is restricted (such as, only during full moon) -4
Casting time is severely restricted (such as, only during lunar eclipse) -8
Focus and Material Components Expensive material component (500 gp) -1
Expensive material component (5,000 gp) -2
Expensive material component (25,000 gp) -4
Expensive focus (5,000 gp) -1
Expensive focus (25,000 gp) -2
Extra Performers 10 or fewer secondary performers -2
11-100 secondary performers -6
101 or more secondary performers -10
Range Touch to Close/Close to Touch +2/-2
Close to Medium/Medium to Close +2/-2
Medium to Long/Long to Medium +2/-2
Area Doubling area/halving area +3/-3
Target Unwilling target must be helpless -2
Factors cont. Check DC Modifier
Limited targets (by HD, creature type, and so on) -3
Single target to multiple targets +4
Duration Rounds to minutes/minutes to rounds +2/-2
Minutes to hours/hours to minutes +4/-2
Hours to days/days to hours +6/-2
Days to permanent or instantaneous/permanent or instantaneous to days +10/-4
Saving Throw None (or harmless) to save partial/save partial to none (or harmless) +2/-2
Save partial to save negates/save negates to save partial +2/-2
Spell Resistance Yes to no (or harmless)/no (or harmless) to yes +4/-4
Backlash Per 2d6 points of damage -1
Performer is exhausted -2
Per negative level performer gains -2
Performer reduced to -1 hp -3
Performer infected with disease -4
Backlash affects secondary performers too -1
Lesser Incantations Per incantation effective level less than 6th -2

Set Level

Finally, set the effective level of the incantation. Incantations are comparable to spells and rituals, and have the same level system (0-9). When determining the level of an incantation, it is often useful to compare it to spells or rituals to determine an appropriate level. Or, if comparing it to its base sphere, assume a level of 1/3 the needed caster level +1 per spell point required. This effective level determines a number of aspects of the incantation, such as how many total successes are required, save DCs, and sometimes its range and duration.

Skill DC: For every level an incantation possesses below 6th, decrease its starting DC by 2. The minimum DC for an incantation is 8 + (2 x level of the incantation). This equals a DC 10 for 1st level, DC 12 for 2nd level, DC 14 for 3rd level, DC 16 for 4th level, and DC 18 for 5th level.

Total Successes: Equal to the incantation’s effective level. Save DC: 10 + incantation’s effective level + the principle caster’s casting ability modifier.

Duration and Range: When determining the duration, range, and other variables, assume a caster level of twice the incantation’s level. Duration and range are determined as usual: if a duration is given in minutes, it will have a duration of 1 minute per caster level. If the range is Medium, it will have a range of 100 ft + 10 ft per caster level. Thus, a level 5 ritual with a duration of minutes and a range of Medium would have a duration of 10 minutes, and a range of 300 ft. These details are often specified in an incantation’s description. If not, assume a caster level of twice the incantation’s level and use the same formula a similar spell would use. For example, an incantation with a duration of minutes would last 12 minutes as it’s effectively a 6th level ritual. The same incantation with a range of medium can affect a target up to 220 ft away.

Opposed Checks

Some incantations use opposed ability or skill checks instead of checks with static DCs. Creating these incantations is almost identical to creating ones with static DCs; you must still choose the sphere and use the same default values, however, replacing the starting DC in this case with an opposed check, such as Bluff vs. Sense Motive or Disguise vs. Perception. When modifying the incantation, instead of applying adjustments to a static DC, apply adjustments to the target’s check result. For example, if creating an incantation that required an opposed Bluff vs. Sense Motive check, if you increased the duration from minutes to hours, you would then apply a +4 adjustment to the target’s check result. This means the opposed check would now be your Bluff result vs. the target’s Sense Motive result +4. If, instead, you reduced the duration from minutes to rounds, you would apply a -2 adjustment to the target’s Sense Motive check.

In an incantation description, using the current example, an opposed check would be designated “Bluff vs. Sense Motive +4”. The skill or other quantity that you use is the first listed, in this case Bluff. The one you’re opposing uses the second skill or the other quantity listed, in this case Sense Motive. Any modifier listed for you or your opponent is applied to the respective checks.

See the Legal & OGL page. Any material NOT covered by the Open Game License Version 1.0a is covered by the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.