Paizo Top Nav Branding
  • Hello, Guest! |
  • Sign In |
  • My Account |
  • Shopping Cart |
  • Help/FAQ
About Paizo Messageboards News Paizo Blog Help/FAQ
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
Pathfinder Society

Pathfinder Beginner Box

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Pathfinder Comics

Pathfinder Legends

Spellcraft to Identify a Spell-Like Ability?


Rules Questions


1 person marked this as FAQ candidate.

We have a character that often uses spellcraft to identify incoming spells and decide if they are dangerous enough to use up resources to increase his efforts to resist them (specifically hero points). If it is bane, meh minor annoyance, let it roll. If it is maximized enervation, holy carp, yes he will burn the resource.

But if the incoming attack that needs the save is a spell-like ability, can he use the same spellcraft check to identify that? If he can't tell what is coming at him, he doesn't know whether or not to use it (so probably won't).


CRB p221 wrote:
A spell-like ability has a casting time of 1 standard action unless noted otherwise in the ability or spell description. In all other ways, a spell-like ability functions just like a spell.

So, yes, you can use spellcraft to identify them.

- Gauss


The comment has been made that, "Spell-like abilities don't have material, somantic, or verbal components so there is nothing to use to identify the spell-like ability."


But wouldn't the same be true of a normal spell with no material components cast with the Silent Spell and Still Spell metamagic feats? The Spellcraft skill description makes no mention of spells being more difficult to identify if they happen to lack certain components.


David knott 242 is correct, there is no difference (in the rules) between identifying a spell without any material components and identifying one with material components.

- Gauss

Shadow Lodge

You have to see a spell being cast or see its effects to identify it though. Obviously the former is harder if the spell is Still and Silent.


Psyren wrote:
You have to see a spell being cast or see its effects to identify it though. Obviously the former is harder if the spell is Still and Silent.

So what are the Spellcraft check modifiers for spells that lack verbal or somatic components? I would agree with you if such modifiers were defined. As best I can tell, it is sufficient to be able to see the caster at the time he casts a spell or spell-like ability unless he is using some ability that specifically penalizes or prevents the Spellcraft check.


Either I see the spellcaster or I do not. If I can see the caster then I can make a spellcraft check. The rules do not have provisions for seeing or not seeing the components.

Now, if you want to make a house rule to that effect that is fine, but this is not the house rule forum. :)

- Gauss


You just know. It's magic you don't need to explain it (or maybe you can't explain it cause it's magic)

Shadow Lodge

Gauss wrote:
Either I see the spellcaster or I do not. If I can see the caster then I can make a spellcraft check.

Sorry I wasn't clear, but this is actually what I mean. If the caster is hiding and using a SLA you are screwed. If they're hiding and casting however, they're moving and making noise, thus they're easier to notice.


In either the SLA or Spell case, if they are hiding and you cannot perceive them then you cannot identify the Spell/SLA. If they are hiding and you perceive them then you can identify Spell/SLA. That isn't related to spellcraft, it is related to perception and the DCs for perception vs stealth or vs hearing someone speaking.

- Gauss


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Wow, this is back again so soon!

Here is the last lengthy thread about this that also has my links to OTHER lengthy threads about this.

This is the most quoted and relevant post by Jason Buhlman.

Now to add in my 2 cents (which at this point is adding up to a lot of dollars), a spell is not the casting components in the same way that a cake is not an oven or the heat. You use the casting components to cast the spell, but they are not the same things. In fact, I don't even view casting components as the ingredients. Magic itself accounts for the ingredients, the casting components are your tools to cast with.

When you must be able to see a spell in order to identify, they are talking about the spell, not the casting components, not the caster. ~The-spell~


Psyren wrote:
You have to see a spell being cast or see its effects to identify it though. Obviously the former is harder if the spell is Still and Silent.

That is open to much debate. I assume that most spells are accompanied by very obvious manifestations of magical energy despite not needing to move you hands or speak the words. Further, game rules would support that if you can see the creauture at all, you can seem them casting a spell. Without spellcraft, you just don't know what it is.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber

A wizard casts Still Silent invisibility on himself. Sorry, no idea what that was.

An wizard under the effects of greater invisibility casts a Silent lightning bolt at you. Sorry, no idea what that incoming pillar of electricity is.

How about a trap that produces a spell effect? The lights just went out... maybe, just maybe it's darkness but... dunno... there was no caster waving his hands in the air and mumbling "blah blah darkness" so I dunno, maybe you just spontaneously went blind. Especially if you've got darkvision and can actually see the zone where the darkness ends. No clue what's happening.

You can identify a spell either by identifying the actions of the caster or by the spell's effect. Sure, the rules don't say fireball is actually visible and/or hot but it doesn't take much imagination to figure that it should be. If you can observe the spell or the casting of the spell, you can use Spellcraft to identify it.

NOTE: in he case of illusions things get mind-warping. If you succeed at Spellcraft but fail your Will save against an illusion, I rule that "for a moment there I thought that was major image but damn, I guess it was actually summon monster XI. Didn't know it goes to 11. We are so screwed."

Shadow Lodge

Gauss wrote:

In either the SLA or Spell case, if they are hiding and you cannot perceive them then you cannot identify the Spell/SLA. If they are hiding and you perceive them then you can identify Spell/SLA. That isn't related to spellcraft, it is related to perception and the DCs for perception vs stealth or vs hearing someone speaking.

- Gauss

But it is harder, which is what I said. The fact that it is harder due to Perception rather than Spellcraft is not the issue.

To summarize, I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just pointing out that SLAs still have an advantage.


Anguish, that is not what the rules say. Even Jason Bulmahn states that the rules allow you to identify the spell regardless of the lack of components.

So in your examples, You can identify Invis. You cannot identify Lightning Bolt (he is invis).

Also, in the case of the trap you can identify spell effects. So yes, you can identify that it is darkness or blindness or whatever.

Psyren, ok. :)

- Gauss


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

To make things interesting, the rules say:

Spellcraft wrote:
Identifying a spell as it is being cast requires no action, but you must be able to clearly see the spell as it is being cast, and this incurs the same penalties as a Perception skill check due to distance, poor conditions, and other factors.

You must be able to clearly see the spell as it is being cast, not the caster. In the case of an invisible caster, it could be debated that as long as his location is pinpointed you may be able to identify his spells. This is where rules are unclear and a bit hairy though. Invisibility has a habit of bringing up odd complications to the rules.

Also, there are some that believe that a spell-like ability is not cast because the description uses "mentally activated":

Spell-like ability wrote:

Usually, a spell-like ability works just like the spell of that name. A spell-like ability has no verbal, somatic, or material component, nor does it require a focus. The user activates it mentally. Armor never affects a spell-like ability's use, even if the ability resembles an arcane spell with a somatic component.

A spell-like ability has a casting time of 1 standard action unless noted otherwise in the ability or spell description. In all other ways, a spell-like ability functions just like a spell.

I personally don't view these things as mutually exclusive, but I'm trying to make sure that other opinions are represented. I always figured that a casting time and the fact that it functions just like a spell in all other ways means that it is cast and can be identified. However, language is not perfect after all, and you can claim some ambiguity on the rules for this.

As for illusions, I say that it is a good idea to cast those from unseen locations most of the time anyway. However, there is this:

Illusions wrote:
A character faced with proof that an illusion isn't real needs no saving throw.

Some could argue that identifying the illusion spell would count as proof.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I'm the GM who doesn't allow checks as a spell-like ability is being cast because the bad guys aren't wiggling their fingers. This discussion makes me think a little more carefully on the matter and I'm glad it was brought up, for my benefit at least.

After reading the comments here and associated threads I think that it is only fair to allow a check. In PFS especially.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber
Gauss wrote:

Anguish, that is not what the rules say. Even Jason Bulmahn states that the rules allow you to identify the spell regardless of the lack of components.

So in your examples, You can identify Invis. You cannot identify Lightning Bolt (he is invis).

Also, in the case of the trap you can identify spell effects. So yes, you can identify that it is darkness or blindness or whatever.

Psyren, ok. :)

- Gauss

That's my point. I was being sarcastic. Heavily so. If you can see it, you can identify it. There are so many obvious examples that it only makes sense to work that way that it doesn't need to be written explicitly IMHO.

And yes, you can identify the lightning bolt. Unless at your table an invisible caster bestows said invisibility on every spell he casts, it only makes sense. The lightning bolt isn't invisible at my table any more than an illusion would be invisible or a summoned creature would be invisible. Heck, the invisible caster throws a rock at someone that rock becomes visible.


I mispoke, I meant 'before the spell effect manifests' on the lightning bolt. :)

There is a difference in identifying the spell as it is being cast and identifying the effect after it is cast.

- Gauss


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber
Gauss wrote:

I mispoke, I meant 'before the spell effect manifests' on the lightning bolt. :)

There is a difference in identifying the spell as it is being cast and identifying the effect after it is cast.

- Gauss

Yeah, I'll agree to that. You don't get to use an Immediate action to interrupt a spell once it's cast, for instance. If you can't see the components and identify it prior to it manifesting, you're hosed. In the context of deciding to use a bonus on your saves, that's fine after it's fully cast.

Sounds like we're all on the same page, basically.


So to summarize our same page:

1) You do not need to see components to identify a spell as it is being cast since there is no rule regarding the presence or absence of components.

2) You DO need to see the caster in order to identify a spell as it is being cast.

3) You do not need to see the caster or the components to identify a spell based on witnessing the spell's effects.

- Gauss


Thanks folks. That matches the way I read the rules.

I will discuss with group. If they want to house rule it otherwise, I'm actually ok with that. But they need to realize that it is a house rule not RAW.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Gauss wrote:
2) You DO need to see the caster in order to identify a spell as it is being cast.

There's actually no proof of this. I made a comment about that above as to how it can be interpreted otherwise.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

As far as I can tell, you CANNOT identify spell-like abilities as they are "cast" (or "mentally activated," or whatever). Identifying them after they are cast is simple enough (though you would need Knowledge: Arcana at that point).

The Spellcraft skill continually refers to spells, not spell-like abilities. They are not interchangeable. They are not the same. One does not mean the other.

No where in the rules, that I am aware of, does it say you can identify a spell-like ability as it is activated.


GrenMeera,

CRB p106 wrote:
Action: Identifying a spell as it is being cast requires no action, but you must be able to clearly see the spell as it is being cast, and this incurs the same penalties as a Perception skill check due to distance, poor conditions, and other factors.

Since you must be able to see the spell "as it is being cast" then you must be able to see the caster. I do not see any other way to interpret this because until the spell is finished, which is before "as it is being cast", the spell effect does not exist.

That is based on the rules which state that none of the targeting information have been determined until it is finished. For example:
You cannot see a fireball "as it is being cast" because the target has not yet been determined. It is not anywhere yet.

So, I can only interpret this to mean that you must see the spellcaster as the spell is being cast.

Ravingdork,

CRB p221 wrote:
A spell-like ability has a casting time of 1 standard action unless noted otherwise in the ability or spell description. In all other ways, a spell-like ability functions just like a spell.

Thus, for it not to function like a spell in this respect there must be an exception somewhere. Since there is not, it functions like a spell.

- Gauss


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Functioning like a spell =/= being cast like a spell (that is referring to duration, damage, polymorph subschool, and the general rules surrounding how spells function internally). It must be cast like a spell in order to be identified like a spell.

Furthermore, the Spellcraft skill still exclusively refers to "spell" not "spell-like ability."


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Gauss wrote:
Since you must be able to see the spell "as it is being cast" then you must be able to see the caster. I do not see any other way to interpret this because until the spell is finished, which is before "as it is being cast", the spell effect does not exist.

There are two things wrong with this statement.

1) You said spell "effect" and not spell. These two things must be viewed differently. The spell effect is never in place until casting is completed. This is necessary to distinguish for all counter-spelling. The spell is identified before the effect. This is a given for counter-spelling to work.

2) Even replacing the text, the statement "until the spell is finished, the spell does not exist" is entirely presumptuous to the rules. Nowhere is this laid out.

If you follow your logic, then identification of a spell as it is being cast would be impossible under any circumstances, since you must see a spell as it is being cast. If you believe that the term "spell" is inconclusive until casting is completed, then all identification is impossible.

So for identification to make sense using the statements laid out by Jason; A spell is a thing; a spell is not its components; a spell is not its effect. It must be observable DURING the casting process and not only after completion. All of these things must be true in order for identification and counter-spelling to be reasonable.

If a spell is not its caster, then what are we observing? I have always explained it as a glowing mass of magic, an aura, or hovering magical pattern (depending upon the spell). However you decide to describe it or make sense of it, you must use something that fits in the rules as they are written. This is ONE way that fits in the rules, but it is NOT the rules. If you need your own explanation, then please come up with one, then continue to apply the same logic.

Now, regardless if you are using my glowing magic theory or your own explanation, why would the caster being invisible affect it? Following the rules as they are written, there would be no reason that I can find that the spell would not be visible, observable, identifiable, and counter-able.

Now, this is all for an invisible caster casting a spell, the specific rules for spell-like abilities would make it not counter-able, but certainly I see no reason why it would not be identifiable.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Ravingdork wrote:
Functioning like a spell =/= being cast like a spell
SRD wrote:
A spell-like ability has a casting time of 1 standard action unless noted otherwise in the ability or spell description. In all other ways, a spell-like ability functions just like a spell.

Well, it certainly has a casting time, so you can't say that it isn't cast.

Other than that, the line "In all other ways, a spell-like ability functions just like a spell." is very vague. People can debate what that means (and have) for weeks. If you don't think identification counts as "in all other ways", then fine, but I do feel like the language ~ALL other ways~ leans towards acceptance instead of exception.

I usually tend to follow the trend that the specific overrides the general, but in anything else the general holds true. I would consider this statement to be a general one, and therefore the omission from Spellcraft as a specific is meaningless.


Pathfinder Modules Subscriber

Don't forget that Perception modifiers apply to Spellcraft rolls made to identify a spell as it's being cast. This makes it rather important whether the activation is visible or otherwise.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Casting time? I thought all spell-like abilities were a standard action unless they stated otherwise.

Is that no longer true in Pathfinder?


Not just unless "they" (the SLA ability) states otherwise...

RAW wrote:
unless noted otherwise in the ability or spell description

So most SLAs have Standard Action casting time, and some may have Swift, Immediate, or 1-Round Casting Time...

They are cast exactly like the spell they're based on, 99% of which are Standard (and non-spell-based SLAs also 'default' to Standard).

I'm not sure what that detail has to do with the main point, it IS being cast like a spell with specific exceptions (components, ASF%). If it was not deriving from the normal spellcasting process then it is incoherent to refer to it as "casting" and then specify which standard features of spellcasting don't apply (like components and ASF%). Other actions that aren't spellcasting, like (Su) abilities or Cleave, don't need to specify those exceptions in the first place since they're not defined as functioning as spellcasting (except as otherwise specified) UNLIKE HOW SLA'S ARE.

Seriously, the best way to visualize this is go whole-hog for the 'must see to spellcraft ID' thing,
and recognize that something like Wayne Reynolds' 'mystic glyphs' are temporarily visible when casting a spell (including SLAs), and are unique to each spell.
Since there's no other details suggesting an 'object size' for the glyphs, and they are an inherent part of the casters' own action, I would just treat these glyphs as an visual element of the caster themself (which matters for Invisible casters). These shouldn't glow but should just reflect light normally, so Darkness/Deeper Darkness should prevent seeing and thus ID'ing the glyphs.

In fact, the wording of Spellcraft (must be able to see spellcasting) means that you can't used Spellcraft to ID regular spells whose casting is 'concealed' by Darkness/Fog/etc EVEN IF they have a verbal component even if that may be their ONLY spell component: You have to SEE... the 'mystic glyphs'.

blahpers wrote:
Don't forget that Perception modifiers apply to Spellcraft rolls made to identify a spell as it's being cast. This makes it rather important whether the activation is visible or otherwise.

Perception checks can be made whether you can possibly see something or not, it covers all senses. The restriction in Spellcraft itself on needing to SEE the spellcasting is much more relevant.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
blahpers wrote:
Don't forget that Perception modifiers apply to Spellcraft rolls made to identify a spell as it's being cast.

Yup, if the spell is in concealment, at long range, etc, then all appropriate modifiers affect the roll. The discussion above was about invisible casters specifically, in which the caster is unseen but that says nothing for the spell.

Ravingdork wrote:

Casting time? I thought all spell-like abilities were a standard action unless they stated otherwise.

Is that no longer true in Pathfinder?

Well.. er... it always was true, and always was a casting time? These two things are not mutually exclusive. You are correct that they are a standard action. It is a casting time of 1 standard action. I dunno if you missed the SRD quote above but this has always been this way:

SRD wrote:
A spell-like ability has a casting time of 1 standard action unless noted otherwise in the ability or spell description.


Spellcraft rules wrote:


Identifying a spell as it is being cast requires no action, but you must be able to clearly see the spell as it is being cast, and this incurs the same penalties as a Perception skill check due to distance, poor conditions, and other factors.
Perception Rules wrote:


Creature or object is invisible +20

A DM would be well within RAW to claim that the casting of a SLA is effectively invisible, and add a +20 to the DC to identify it.

The RAW says you always get a spellcraft check to ID the spell, but it leaves the DC wide open by bringing in the perception rules.


"the spell... being cast" could either be "the spellcaster person doing stuff / having stuff happen to them ('mystic glyphs')" or "the spellcasting itself ('mystic glyphs') as a separate object". The first is covered by the spellcaster's own Invisibility, the latter isn't. The problem with the latter is there is no supporting details about the 'separate object' you might want to Perceive/Spellcraft ID, there is no object size to determine Perception Modifier, and there is nothing that actually says there is any separate object to Perceive besides the Spellcaster themself. So the choice is between "well covered by the rules" option or "practically no RAW-based guidance" option. If you want to, or are compelled to use RAW, the just as plausible option that IS fully covered by RAW seems the one to use.

If you want to house-rule otherwise that isn't that overly disruptive to the rules, but it just isn't something that would be expected to be repeatedly encountered in a RAW environment like PFS.

Paizo / Messageboards / Paizo Publishing / Pathfinder® / Pathfinder RPG / Rules Questions / Spellcraft to Identify a Spell-Like Ability? All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.

©2002–2014 Paizo Inc.®. Need help? Email customer.service@paizo.com or call 425-250-0800 during our business hours: Monday–Friday, 10 AM–5 PM Pacific Time. View our privacy policy. Paizo Inc., Paizo, the Paizo golem logo, Pathfinder, the Pathfinder logo, Pathfinder Society, GameMastery, and Planet Stories are registered trademarks of Paizo Inc., and Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Pathfinder Adventure Path, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Pathfinder Player Companion, Pathfinder Modules, Pathfinder Tales, Pathfinder Battles, Pathfinder Online, PaizoCon, RPG Superstar, The Golem's Got It, Titanic Games, the Titanic logo, and the Planet Stories planet logo are trademarks of Paizo Inc. Dungeons & Dragons, Dragon, Dungeon, and Polyhedron are registered trademarks of Wizards of the Coast, Inc., a subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc., and have been used by Paizo Inc. under license. Most product names are trademarks owned or used under license by the companies that publish those products; use of such names without mention of trademark status should not be construed as a challenge to such status.