How much is a spell worth?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion

Sovereign Court

I think a lot with the system as I tweak and houserule. One thing that has stumped me for awhile is how much a spell is worth in the system. Obviously, it varies due to a number of variables, but getting some general idea is something that I keep plugging away at.

Some of the things I've been taking into account:

The Action Economy

In 3.5 you had a dev formula given that basically a four combats ought to be expected in any given day, and further that each combat averages about five rounds. So four combats times five rounds gets you to 20 rounds per day. I don't buy that estimation, particularly for Pathfinder, but for simplicity I'll stick to 20 rounds a day for this discussion.

In terms of the action economy, you have 20 actions to perform each day. A fighter can pick up a sword and can reasonably be expected (between charges and standard attacks) of being able to perform 20 attacks in a given day.

Spells however, barring cantrips, can only be done once per day. Once a spell has been cast then it can't be replicated again, at least without other magical resources being used, but I want to ignore that because a fighter can perform attack actions the whole time, even unarmed strikes, without any additional help.

So spells at a base level are worth 1/20 of a standard attack. You could say that an attack is worth 20 points and a spell is worth 1 point.

Spell Levels

Spells are not equal to one another. You have a wide range of effects, so varied that you're reduced to eyeballing things most of the time. However they are grouped into spell levels, which at least gives a numerical scaling of their value that we can play with.

You could basically take the spell level as its point value, with cantrips being worth half a point. Thus a first level spell is worth 1 point. A ninth level spell is worth 9 points. Cantrips, because they are at-will, can be performed every round, and thus they are worth 10 points (20*0.5).

Caster Level

Spells quite often also scale with caster level in a variety of ways. This isn't always the case, which muddies the water, but in general you can expect some kind of scaling for effect and/or duration.

With 20 levels this means a 9th level spell is worth at least 153 points (9*17) and goes up to 180 points.

This all seems like it's going ok, but then you look at how you have to scale standard attacks. They scale also, directly with increasing BAB, but in general it will be assumed that additional damage will also accrue in the system in various ways.

If you scale up a standard attack it has a value of 400 points (20*20).

Iterative Attacks

Going back to the action economy. The fighter at 20th level is getting more actions in a round when performing a full-attack. That has to be factored in also.

The first attack is worth 400 (20*20), the second is worth 300 (15*20), the third is 200 (10*20), and the fourth is worth 100 (5*20), for a total of 1000 points for a full-attack at 20th level.

This is where the math starts to fall apart for me. The problem is that you have a full-attack worth 1000 points, and a 9th level spell worth 180 points. While it's true that the 9th level spell is fired off once per day, and the full-attack just keeps chugging along, but those values seem off since 9th level spells might, in one casting, solve the entire fight with save effects, or the duration of a spell is so long that the spell is in fact in effect through the whole combat or multiple combats.

Aside from tediously costing out every spell in the core book, I haven't been able to wrap my head around a baseline that “feels right” in regard to how spells, from 1st to 9th, have the potential of having a wider impact then they have on a per round basis.

Any thoughts are appreciated.


I don't think there is a direct clear-cut answer to your question. However, I think a large part of your difficulties with it is the idea that apparently spellcasters should be casting spells every action. Action economy is king, but magi can't let it burn a hole in their pocket!

I'm playing an 8th level sorcerer in an online game on OpenRPG. She knows haste, among her other spells. More often than not, she can just cast haste and buff 8 party members and/or minions. Her spell lasts 8 rounds. 9/10 times, she doesn't need to take any further actions in the fight to have contributed to the fight heavily; but will still preform cantrips or ready to disrupt spellcasters and such (readied action + magic missile = nasty Concentration check).

Even if I'm not casting a meaningful spell, I can fall back to using cantrips like dancing lights to toy with the light radius in areas, to aid my allies. Since my character also has a wand of animate dead, she can have her minions use aid-another or attack with ranged weapons or alchemical items while she sits on her undead horse and watches the show (she has a few ranks in ride and such and so she's very fond of using her mount for cover while taking a total defense).

I'm not sure how much this helps you price spells, but spells aren't exactly strait-forward in their usage either. Many spells have little to nothing to do with action economy, so that's also a bit of an issue.

Sovereign Court

Ashiel wrote:
I don't think there is a direct clear-cut answer to your question. However, I think a large part of your difficulties with it is the idea that apparently spellcasters should be casting spells every action. Action economy is king, but magi can't let it burn a hole in their pocket!

That's true. Part of what I'm trying to do is isolate the value of an individual spell so that I can then calculate overall value when you take into account the spell slots. So a 20th level wizard, with four 9th level spells, has 720 points from those four spells, compared to the 1000 points of the full attack of the fighter.

When you start to add up all of the spell slots a wizard has at 20th level then you begin to see the martial/caster disparity. The fighter just gets that 1000 point ability, while the wizard gets the 720 for 9th level spells, and x number of points for 8th level spells, and so on.

So in that regard, the numbers of some vague value, but they don't come off as exacting as they ought to be.

Ashiel wrote:


I'm playing an 8th level sorcerer in an online game on OpenRPG. She knows haste, among her other spells. More often than not, she can just cast haste and buff 8 party members and/or minions. Her spell lasts 8 rounds. 9/10 times, she doesn't need to take any further actions in the fight to have contributed to the fight heavily; but will still preform cantrips or ready to disrupt spellcasters and such (readied action + magic missile = nasty Concentration check).

This is a strong argument for me needing to tediously grind through the value of each spell, so that duration and effect can be more exacting. Because if you cast haste, buff the party, and then enlarge person a fighter next round, and the round after cast expeditious retreat, all of those effects (with their varied values) are compounded and stretched over the 20 round day.

Ashiel wrote:


I'm not sure how much this helps you price spells, but spells aren't exactly strait-forward in their usage either. Many spells have little to nothing to do with action economy, so that's also a bit of an issue.

This is true. In those instances I'm looking at things like how situational these spells are in terms of providing a solution to a problem.

Overall, what I'm doing is building off of the Challenging Challenge Ratings document. The spell analysis there was a broad benchmark level of analysis, and I want something more exacting. Ultimately, I want the entire system reduced down to lego-like blocks that I can then assemble and sort with far more precision than the traditional eyeballing approach.


I think the discrepancy here can be attributed to the 'worth' of each spell.

Haste is a good example of a spell that is worth way more than its level implies. It gives every character an extra attack (which, according to your calculations, at level 20 this improves the fighter's full attack by nearly 50%, but it affects the entire group, including the caster). In fact, in a typical level 20 group (mage, divine caster, warrior, striker), Ashiel's haste spell just added 1000 points to the party's output with one spell, so haste, at least at level 20, is worth 1000 or so points. I wouldn't even begin to fathom the possible point association that something like wish or time stop might have.

If you are going to try and figure out a spell's worth mathematically, it might be better to increase the point-value of each level exponentially rather than additively.

Maybe a third level spell should be something like 3 (for spell level) multiplied by caster level, to some qualitatively-based power, with the qualitative power reflecting the maximum points obtainable in a given round by the spell's use, with 1st power for damage spells (like fireball), 2nd for single person buff/de-buff (like heroism or curse), 3rd power for full-party buff/de-buff (haste, black tentacles) and 4th power for the truly hard to figure, extraneous, or esoteric stuff (think wish).

(Using this, haste at level 6 would be something like 3*6^3=324 points, while at level 20 it would be something like 3*20^3=3,600 points)

But I'd say this is an exercise in futility because spells (like haste) are qualitative abilities rather than quantitative (like attacks). Spells that don't just do damage actually bend the rules of the game. Attacks just contribute in a somewhat evenly scaled damage-to-defense ratio. Spells are also so qualitatively different that comparing them, even at the same level, is an arbitrary apples-to-oranges job.


Correction: There should be parentheses around the spell level and caster level figures.

So haste here would be (3*6)^3 and (3*20)^3 respectively.

I might add that those numbers come out to be kind of an average of potential points added over a few rounds, which might help compensate for the lack of duration figures.


As noted in the OP, spells last multiple rounds.

That 9th level spell, while taking one action, may last and be in effect for the entire 20 rounds. So 180*20 = 3600 points.

At a minimum, if the spell instant ends an encounter its value is 180*5 = 900 for the 4 rounds of the encounter that no longer happen.

For straight up combat, it may be possible. But trying to base the value purely on actions taken will not work. Also assessed must be actions saved/granted/denied. The best spells often deny opponents actions, or like haste, grant additional ability to multiple people. Things a regular attack never does.

Ashiel didn't even go in depth into the problems though. Spells do things an attack just can not replicate. If a level 2 spell is 6 points but an attack is 20, what about mirror image that blocks up to 5 attacks or so? 6 points then negates up to 100 points (or 40 points stopping 1000). (Rounding things a bit since each attack has a chance to actually hit). And at level 5, that is all 5 rounds of the combat by the fighter, while the caster still has 4 more actions.


You might find the task easier if you use DPR as a common denominator rather than a unit based on level or spell level. Saying a fighter does ~180 DPR at level 20 is more meaningful and intuitive than saying his attacks are worth 1000 points.

You can follow this thread easily through buffs and debuffs. Haste increases everyone's DPR by a measureable amount, as do bull's strength and enlarge. Mirror image decreases monster DPR by a measureable amount (but only really has a DPR mitigation value equal to how often you are attacked), as does healing (whether it is used in combat or not) and also spells that deny action. Spells that are capable of ending encounters in the first action of combat, as an example, can be valued at the total average DPR the monsters might otherwise have dealt.

To do this it would be helpful to assume EL = APL, just for the sake of calculation. Ignore how many party members there are, and focus on how much a spell increases the DPR of one person, and then state the value per person.

Trailblazer would be helpful for their tables on monster and PC average AC/hit/saves/etc per level.


Yeah. It really is impossible to just stick a value on a given spell.

Even in simpler systems saga edition any ability that has qualitative uses or rule-bending power throws math out the window. There are just too many potentially awesome uses of the grease spell to assign a number value to it.

DPR is a good enough gauge for most purposes as long as you keep in mind that magic is supposed to throw monkey wrenches into the gears of the universe, especially in the hands of PCs with excess time to think up crazy uses for it.

Sovereign Court

Hudax wrote:

You might find the task easier if you use DPR as a common denominator rather than a unit based on level or spell level. Saying a fighter does ~180 DPR at level 20 is more meaningful and intuitive than saying his attacks are worth 1000 points.

You can follow this thread easily through buffs and debuffs. Haste increases everyone's DPR by a measureable amount, as do bull's strength and enlarge. Mirror image decreases monster DPR by a measureable amount (but only really has a DPR mitigation value equal to how often you are attacked), as does healing (whether it is used in combat or not) and also spells that deny action. Spells that are capable of ending encounters in the first action of combat, as an example, can be valued at the total average DPR the monsters might otherwise have dealt.

To do this it would be helpful to assume EL = APL, just for the sake of calculation. Ignore how many party members there are, and focus on how much a spell increases the DPR of one person, and then state the value per person.

Trailblazer would be helpful for their tables on monster and PC average AC/hit/saves/etc per level.

Yeah, I'd want to eventually integrate DPR into a larger metric system.

Trailblazer is definitely influencing me. Ultimately I want to take the above Challenging the Challenge Ratings document and take it to a more refined and granular level. I want the entire contents of the system measured out and made into nice little lego blocks that can be assembled however one desires... not for player use, but at a design stage.

Rather than just eyeballing, or falling back on "compare to something equivalent" I'd like to get everything measured out so that you don't have to be trapped in the old assumptions. The comparison route means your metric is whatever some previous designer eyeballed and placed at some level in the game, just because. If everything has an isolated value then you can combine elements in new ways, and then eyeball it to see if the combination makes sense and fits within certain power scales.


I don't think you can value this stuff like you are trying to do.

However, if you MUST try, forget character levels, and probably spell levels too. It's not the characer level that is important, but the way it alters a SPECIFIC spell. The level itself is far less important for these calculations. Also, remember to take into account:

The AVERAGE damage for the attack (1 pt/HP???)
The POTENTIAL damage for the attack (1 pt/HP???)
The POTENTIAL number of targets for the attack (2 pts/target???)
The maximum RANGE for the attack (1 pt/5 ft???)
The damage TYPE for the attack (normal = x1, fire = x1.5, poison, acid, cold, or electricity = x2, sonic = x2.5, force = x3????)
The secondary EFFECTS of the attack (stunned, sickened, etc.)

I dunno. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to these values.

Also, there are non-combat spells to consider. Detect Magic is worth A LOT more than it's implied value, under your system. Imagine trying to find the magic items in a dragon's horde without it.

Finally, there are feats to consider. Are all sword strikes equal, or do improved critical, power attack, cleave, and other feats change the value?

Again, I don't think you can easily quantify these values.

Sovereign Court

I do agree that to do this right you really need to break down the value of each spell, and then aggregate those values into spell levels to get benchmarks within the spell levels themselves. That way you could get a broad value based off of the averages of the collected spells in any given level and caster level.

Jason Rice wrote:
I dunno. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to these values.

True, but you start with a guess and then refine it as you get more informed on the subject.

What I'd linked to before, Challenging Challenge Ratings document, was created specifically so the designer could more reliably make epic level content for 3.5. He wanted benchmarks so that he could have more clarity with the CR system, and with that more clear view be able to design new content that has some rational basis behind it.

I'm just trying to extend that analysis out further. His goal was more broad than mine is and so I'm trying to get a more nuances evaluation of spells.

To look at it in another way. You have two GMs. One makes some house rules up and his methodology is, "I thought this would be cool" and then just made up some game statistics in five minutes that works off of one element of the system.

Then there is a second GM who likewise thinks, "this would be cool to do" but then spends a week looking at how his idea would impact the system, what cascading effects might occur if it was introduced, and then opens up a spread sheet to run some numbers to see how it compares to a similar effect that already exists in the system.

If the two GM's published their houserules on Drive Through RPG, and offered up their design notes as part of a preview, if I was going to spend money on the pdf I'd likely pay the second GM over the first.

Jason Rice wrote:


Also, there are non-combat spells to consider. Detect Magic is worth A LOT more than it's implied value, under your system. Imagine trying to find the magic items in a dragon's horde without it.

A big part of the approach that I've taken so far with non-combat abilities is how much they come up, basically how situational are they in regular play. If you go on the assumption that the main aim of the system, and how most people play for the bulk of the time, is to kill things and take their stuff, then it's just an issue of evaluating how much these out of combat effects impact that aim of play.

You might have something like fabricate, which itself isn't going to have a huge impact on combat. However if the player sets up a small economy to draw in gold to buy equipment that will help in combat, then it's likely to be rated higher than, say... speak with animals.

Jason Rice wrote:


Finally, there are feats to consider. Are all sword strikes equal, or do improved critical, power attack, cleave, and other feats change the value?

Oh yes... none of this analysis stops with spells. It's just one of the more complicated areas to try and sort out. But yes, feats need to be evaluated in far more detail. It's something I'm eager to do because not all feats are created equal, and if you had a more detailed metric of their value, then you have a tool to tweak and adjust feats so that they fall more in line with each other.

Jason Rice wrote:
Again, I don't think you can easily quantify these values.

Definitely. It isn't easy and you have to go hard core geek to keep up with the evaluation. I still think it's doable. You have systems that are complete point-buys, such as Hero or GURPS. Everything is broken down in those games, so I'm not sure why they can't be done in D&D. Heck, Mutants and Masterminds is d20 based and it's point buy also.

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