Spells are magical formulas with esoteric components, including words of power, gestures, and unusual ingredients, that when taken together create extraordinary magical effects. Spells have always been a crucial part of Pathfinder and the fantasy genre as a whole. But what's new about spells in the playtest? Let's take a look!
You cast spells by using some combination of the Verbal Casting, Somatic Casting, and Material Casting actions (the most common combination is Verbal and Somatic Casting actions for 2 total actions). Not every class interfaces with those actions in the same way. For instance, clerics can use a divine focus to satisfy the Material Casting action, sorcerers use their magical blood, and bards can use instruments that change up several aspects (for instance, even if you're gagged or otherwise unable to speak, you can play your violin to provide the Verbal Casting portion).
In the playtest, you'll be able to heighten your favorite spells in order to gain greater effects than ever before. Heightening a spell works much like it did previously, where you prepare a spell in a higher-level slot (or cast it using a higher-level slot if you're a spontaneous caster), except now all spellcasters can do it, and you gain much more interesting benefits. Want to fire 15 missiles with magic missile or turn into a Huge animal with animal form? Just heighten those spells to the appropriate level! There's no longer any need to learn long chains of spells that are incrementally different and each require you to refer back to the previous spell.
Incidentally, the idea of using a spell's level to determine its power has led to some really interesting interplay between spells. For example, how many times have you run into a situation where your high-level illusionist is foiled by a simple detect magic spell or a similar effect? Now, illusions of a higher spell level than a detect magic cantrip can foil detection! Similarly, dispel magic has a harder time dispelling spells of much higher spell levels, while it can crush lower-level spells with ease. This extends to many other similar interactions; while in Pathfinder First Edition, a creature with some basic spell effect that's constantly active might be flat-out immune to your character's spells, now you can heighten your spells and overcome that obstacle!
In the playtest, cantrips are spells you can cast at will, but they are no longer level 0. Instead, they automatically heighten to the highest spell level you can currently cast. That means if you're 5th level, your ray of frost is 3rd level and deals more damage, and your light cantrip is better at counteracting magical darkness.
Domain Powers and Beyond
Pathfinder has always had domain powers, school powers, bloodline powers, and other special class-based spell-like abilities that you can use a certain number of times per day rather than using your daily spell slots on them. In the playtest, we've expanded this idea, allowing even more classes to gain these kinds of powers and standardizing the way we talk about the powers and their daily uses. The powers are now treated as a special kind of spell, and they are all cast using Spell Points. There is power in naming something; while you don't really count them differently than if you had a pool of uses per day, this allowed us to create new and interesting abilities that cost multiple Spell Points or that you could add extra features to at the cost of more Spell Points, in a way that works across classes more smoothly.
So what's the deal with 10th-level spells? Jason mentioned these all the way at the beginning, and many of you have given excellent guesses for what they will be. They start with a class of spells that used to be 9th level+, by which I mean, they were 9th level, but even for that level they were usually balanced by expensive material costs. Spells like wish and miracle. In the playtest, these spells are free to cast but are 10th level. Then we added some brand-new and amazing spells, like fabricated truth and nature incarnate. I'm guessing you guys will quickly figure out what these spells do, but here's a hint: one of them had a critical failure effect previewed in the Critical Hits and Critical Failures blog!
Ever since we introduced them in Pathfinder RPG Occult Adventures, rituals have been a favorite both among fans and the adventure developers here at Paizo. If you haven't checked them out yet, they're story-rich spells with a long casting time that anyone skilled enough could conceivably try to perform as long as they have the hidden knowledge. Typically they involve some number of secondary casters, which can get the whole party involved or make a nice set-piece encounter with an evil cult.
Even in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, there were spells that sort of followed that mold already—the 8th-level spell binding is a perfect example. In the playtest, these sorts of spells have been made into rituals. This means that these downtime spells don't take up your spell slots, and that martial characters who manage to attain a high enough proficiency rank in magic-related skills like Arcana can cast them! This is particularly great when, for instance, the cleric dies but the monk can perform a resurrection ritual. (Don't worry, there is still also the non-ritual spell raise dead in case you need someone back in action faster, though a group that wants death to be more uncertain can easily omit that spell for an instant shift in the tone of the campaign.) Rituals also have delightful potential failure effects. For instance, if you critically fail planar binding, you call something dark and horrible that isn't bound by your wards, and it immediately attempts to destroy you!
Magical traditions, such as arcane and divine, have always been a part of Pathfinder spells. But the playtest gives us an opportunity to really explore what they mean, what makes them different, and how they metaphysically interconnect in a way that enriches the game's story. Magic taps into various essences in the cosmos. For example, arcane magic blends material essence (the fundamental building blocks of all physical things) and mental essence (the building block of rational thoughts, logic, and memories). This means that arcane traditions share a lot in common with science, as arcane spellcasters tend to use logic and rational methods to categorize the magic inherent in the physical world around them. Divine magic is the exact opposite; it blends spiritual essence (the otherworldly building block of the immortal self) and vital essence (the universal life force that gives us instincts and intuition). This means that divine traditions are steeped in faith, the unseen, and belief in a power source from beyond the Material Plane. These ideas have led to some exciting new additions of spells into each tradition's repertoire.
Let's put everything we've talked about into perspective by taking a look at a spell that can be heightened and that uses actions in an interesting way: heal. (By the way, notice the new spell school!)
Heal Spell 1
Healing, Necromancy, Positive
Casting Somatic Casting or more
Range touch, Range 30 feet, or Area 30-foot aura (see text); Target one willing living creature or one undead creature
You channel positive energy to heal the living or damage the undead. You restore Hit Points equal to 1d8 + your spellcasting modifier to a willing living target, or deal that amount of positive damage to an undead target. The number of actions you spend when Casting this Spell determines its targets, range, area, and other parameters.
- Somatic Casting The spell has a range of touch. You must succeed at a melee touch attack to damage an undead target.
- Somatic Casting, Verbal Casting The spell has a range of 30 feet and doesn't require a touch attack when targeting an undead creature. An undead target must attempt a Fortitude save, taking half damage on a success, no damage on a critical success, or double damage on a critical failure.
- Material Casting, Somatic Casting, Verbal Casting You disperse positive energy in a 30-foot aura. This has the same effect as the two-action version of the spell, but it targets all living and undead creatures in the burst and reduces the amount of healing or damage to your spellcasting ability modifier.
Heightened (+1) Increase the amount of healing or damage by 1d8, or by 2d8 if you're using the one- or two-action version to heal the living.
So you can cast heal with 1 action and restore quite a few Hit Points to a touched target, especially for a single action. This is particularly useful if you cast heal several times in one turn on someone who needs emergency assistance after a critical hit! For 2 actions, you can cast safely from the back lines, and for 3 actions, you can change the area to a burst and heal living creatures while harming undead at the same time. It restores fewer hit points to each target that way, but if you have multiple allies in need of healing, it can be really efficient. This one spell, using heightened effects, combines the effects of all the cure wounds spells in one place.
At the bottom of the stat block, you see what one type of heightened entry looks like. This one gets better proportionally for each spell level above 1st. So a 2nd-level heal spell heals one target for 3d8 + your spellcasting ability modifier, a 3rd-level one heals one target 5d8 + your spellcasting ability modifier, and so on.
But heal is a classic spell chain that you already knew and loved in Pathfinder First Edition and that has already been revealed in tidbits through podcasts. How about its big sister regenerate?
Regenerate Spell 7
Casting Somatic Casting, Verbal Casting
Range touch; Target one willing living creature
Duration 1 minute
The target temporarily gains regeneration 15, which restores 15 Hit Points to it at the start of each of its turns. While it has regeneration, the target can't die from damage and its dying value can't exceed 3. If the target takes acid or fire damage, its regeneration deactivates until after the end of its next turn.
Each time the creature regains Hit Points from regeneration, it also regrows one damaged or ruined organ (if any). During the spell's duration, the creature can also reattach severed body parts by spending an Interact action to hold the body part to the stump.
Heightened (9th) The regeneration increases to 20.
Regenerate was always necessary to restore lost limbs or organs (a rare situation to come up in the game), but the way it worked made it fairly ineffective for use in combat. This version is much more attractive during a fight, particularly if your foe lacks access to acid and fire!
This spell doesn't increase in power incrementally as its level increases (except for being harder to dispel); instead, it has a specific heightened benefit at 9th level.
But what about something you've never seen before? Let's take a look at vampiric exsanguination!
Vampiric Exsanguination Spell 6
Death, Necromancy, Negative
Casting Somatic Casting, Verbal Casting
Area 30-foot cone
You draw life force from creatures and send it into your outstretched arms. You deal 10d6 negative damage to all living creatures in the area. As long as at least one creature in the area takes damage, you also gain half that many temporary Hit Points. You lose any remaining temporary Hit Points after 1 minute.
- Success Half damage.
- Critical Success No damage.
- Failure Full damage.
- Critical Failure Double damage.
Heightened (+2) Increase the damage by 3d6.
So we're dealing some reasonable damage in a cone; cone of cold isn't going to be jealous. But the trick here is that if you can get at least one foe (or minion) to critically fail its save against the spell, you gain a huge number of temporary Hit Points! If you're a wizard with a Constitution score of 12, that hapless creature might just provide you nearly 50% more Hit Points (incidentally, if you deal a lot of damage, you could kill a minion who critically fails the save, so use it responsibly). And since you're drawing in life force, guess who gains access to this spell? (Urgathoans rejoice!)
More New Spells
I'm going to close out by giving just the names of a smattering of new spells. What might they do? I'll leave it up to you guys to see what you think!
- Alter reality
- Collective transposition
- Divine inspiration
- Duplicate foe
- Energy aegis
- Mariner's curse
- Moment of renewal
- Moon frenzy
- Nature's enmity
- Primal phenomenon
- Punishing winds
- Spiritual epidemic
- Spiritual guardian
- Tangling creepers
- Unfathomable song