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What is the duration of a Serum of Appearance Change?


Rules Questions


2 people marked this as FAQ candidate.
P. 225, Serum of Appearance Change wrote:
Upon drinking this elixer, your coloration and the general form of your features instantly and permanently changes.

What is the duration of an effect that is "instant and permanent?" This cannot be a wholly mechanical statement; an Instantaneous duration is different from and incompatible with a Permanent duration. The only way that phrase works is if one of them is narratively rather than mechanically descriptive, which leaves two possibilities.

If the Serum's duration is mechanically Instantaneous, it is "permanent" in that the modifications will not simply go away in a few days as something like hair dye would. Changes to underlying bone structure - such as the length of one's fingers as in one of the examples provided - would remain regardless of how much time passed, in as much as they would in light of normal physiological processes potentially altering them anyway, such as hair gradually losing its color as one ages. If the Serum's duration is Permanent, it is "instant" in that the Permanent effect is applied the moment the serum is ingested. However, unlike an Instantaneous effect, this is a form of lingering magic, and is therefore subject to Dispel Magic and similar cancellation effects.

Unfortunately, I think the wording is equally valid for both interpretations, which is quite unhelpful.

As another question, can the use of a Serum allow you to assume your own exact form? I would think yes, as the precise wording is that you cannot assume the exact appearance of another creature, but I've seen some uncertainty on that subject.

If the correct interpretation of all this should be that it is a Permanent effect, it also raises the question of how multiple doses interact with each other. They must either override or outright dispel and replace previous uses, and it's certainly not clear which that would be.


It does not say Instantaneous, it says instantly. There's a difference.

The effect is permanent.


Alright, let's say that's true, and that "instantly" is supposed to merely be a narrative modifier that the SoAC needs even when no other dispellable serum does. How does SoAC's permanency in this situation interact with repeated use? If you've used more than one, do the previous ones persist underneath the most recent? If you've used more than one and the effect is dispelled, do you revert to a form granted by an earlier use, or to your original?


Hithesius wrote:
Alright, let's say that's true, and that "instantly" is supposed to merely be a narrative modifier that the SoAC needs even when no other dispellable serum does. How does SoAC's permanency in this situation interact with repeated use? If you've used more than one, do the previous ones persist underneath the most recent? If you've used more than one and the effect is dispelled, do you revert to a form granted by an earlier use, or to your original?

They can be dispelled, so if a villain is using it to be disguised they can be uncovered.

It is the same effect so it over writes old ones. Dispelling reverts you to your original appearance.


Alright, let's say again that that's true. Can you point to any specific text that indicates redundant Permanent effects dispel and replace the previous version? Because I'm not aware of any such text, but perhaps I simply haven't found it.

Sovereign Court

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Where do you see that The Serum of Appearance Change can be dispelled?

Also note:

The Serum of Appearance Change does nothing to help you disguise. It doesn't even give you a bonus to Disguise checks, it simply changes your appearance, but not to the point that you look like a different person.

SF CRB wrote:
You are still recognizable as yourself unless you attempt a Disguise check to alter your features enough to conceal your identity (comparing the result of this Disguise check to any effort to determine if you are the same person as your original appearance). In no case can you take on the exact appearance of another creature (even with a Disguise check; the level of control is not that fine).

The magic happens "instantly" the effects on your physiology are permanent. It's not the sort of effect that "stacks" or can be dispelled.

If you have blue eyes and want to make them green, after using the Serum you now have green eyes. You character doesn't have blues eyes with a magic effect on them, they now have green eyes.


If it's an instantaneous effect, then you are correct; the effect of the Serum cannot be dispelled. But are you sure it's an instantaneous effect? How? It doesn't say its mechanical duration is instantaneous. It says it changes your appearance "instantly and permanently." While interpreting that as meaning a mechanically instantaneous effect is reasonable, can you point at anything that explicitly rules out the alternative interpretation of it having a mechanically permanent duration?


The fact that it outright says the change is permanent?

Sovereign Court

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The Serum of Appearance Change is not a spell effect, so technically speaking it does not have a "duration" in the same sense a spell does.

So to answer the question if it has an "Instantaneous" or a "Permanent" duration, the technical answer is "neither one."

It is a magic item, when drunk, your appearance changes "instantly and permanently."

While those words mean something specific, and different from each other in the context of a spell's duration, I believe the proper reading here is simply the plain English of the words taken together.

Sovereign Court

To elaborate on how I think Dispel Magic would interact with the Serum let's look at how Dispel Magic interacts with Magic Items.

SF CRB - DISPEL MAGIC wrote:
If the object that you target is a magic item, you attempt a dispel check against the item level (DC = 11 + the item level). If you succeed, all the item’s magical properties are suppressed for 1d4 rounds, after which the item recovers its magical properties. A suppressed item becomes nonmagical for the duration of the effect. A magic item’s nonmagical physical properties are unchanged: a suppressed holy laser pistol is still a laser pistol. Artifacts and deities are unaffected by mortal magic such as this.

If "Dispel Magic" was cast on the Serum prior to being consumed it would make the serum a nonmagical inert liquid for 1d4 rounds.

If a creature were to drink the serum in within that time frame they would receive no effect since the Magic Item was dispelled. Otherwise the item works when it is activated (imbibed), and since it is not a spell effect with a duration, there is nothing to dispel after the single use item as been consumed.


NumenorKing wrote:
The Serum of Appearance Change is not a spell effect, so technically speaking it does not have a "duration" in the same sense a spell does.

Except it does.

P. 270, Duration wrote:
An effect's duration tells you how long the effect lasts. If a spell, ability, or item has a specific duration and creates one or more effects, those effects last for the duration unless the specific effect notes otherwise.

This is in the chapter on Tactical Rules, rather than on Magic. Nothing about being an item exempts the Serum of Appearance Change from this rule. It has an effect with a duration, and based on the text, that duration is either instantaneous or permanent. "Instantly and permanently" does not clearly indicate the effect is intended to be instantaneous, and leaves open a very reasonable interpretation of the opposite. And to continue with that, going back a bit earlier...

Rysky the Dark Solarion wrote:

It does not say Instantaneous, it says instantly. There's a difference.

The effect is permanent.

If the wording were very slightly different, I would be perfectly willing to accept this conclusion. However, I don't think this is quite clear enough to accept as unambiguous RAW, and I certainly don't think it's clear enough to accept as unambiguous RAI.

No, "instantly" is not "instantaneously," so that is an immediate point for the permanent stance. But if it is a permanent effect, why say it "instantly and permanently" changes your form? There is no ambiguity to clarify here. There is no uncertainty about when a serum's effect occurs. A serum is ingested, and the person ingesting it receives the effect. There is no reason to say it occurs "instantly and permanently," because that would not be in doubt even if trimmed to just "permanently." If there truly was a need to emphasize that it happens the moment you ingest the serum beyond what is already understood, then a simple alternate word choice such as "immediately" would have accomplished the same with no uncertainty.

Even with that basis for doubt, though, it does say "permanently." With no clarifying text, that is enough on its own to provide a reasonable argument against it being an instantaneous effect. I do not think it is conclusive, but I do think it is reasonable.

But I'm trying to figure out if there actually is a conclusive argument, since only being able to reach "reasonable" was why I asked to begin with. Unfortunately, I'm not yet convinced the rules as we presently have them are adequate to provide one.

Scarab Sages

May i remind everyone that several creation school effects had an instantaneous duration with prrmenant effect in pathfinder. They created something that was prrmenant., but was otherwise mundane. Cure light wounds was instantaious, but it had a prrmenant effect. How do you dispel blindness/deafness? you don’t. It’s An instantaneous spell with a prrmenant effect. How do you dispel the damage caused by a damaging spell? you don’t. The effect is permenant, at least until another jnstant duration spell comes along to change it again. A serum of appearance change is the same. It takes effect instantly (instant duration) but it’s effects are Permanent. The magic is instant in duration, it’s effects are permenant.


I think you are reading far too much into the word "instantly" for something that isn't there.

Sovereign Court

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Hithesius wrote:


Except it does.

P. 270, Duration wrote:
An effect's duration tells you how long the effect lasts. If a spell, ability, or item has a specific duration and creates one or more effects, those effects last for the duration unless the specific effect notes otherwise.

Yep, point taken, you are correct.

I would still argue that the duration is Instantaneous since that an Instant duration very often involves a permanent change in the world, but a permanent duration would not likely use the word instant.

It would have been better if they had used the same wording as The Serum of Sex change, which is very clear an unambiguous:

Serum of Sex Change wrote:
The elixir’s magic functions instantaneously and cannot be dispelled.

Unfortunately the wording we have to go on for the Serum of Appearance Change is much more ambiguous. My interpretation is that they both effectively have the same duration, that seems to me to be the most logical conclusion, but I'll certainly admit it's not nearly as clear as it could be.

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