Are the rules for Somatic Components for spellcasting confusing to you too?


Rules Questions


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This discussion is carried over from a post in the advice forum as it was about to go off topic.

When I wrote my Guide on Wizards, one of the things I wrote that generated a lot of disagreement was when I suggested that a wizard who cast Elemental Form would be unable to meet the somatic component for casting spells (as I had always seen pictures of elementals without proper hands). I was linked many pictures of elementals with hands to show me the error of my ways. My opinion on elemental form interfering with spellcasting has become clouded since.

Now though, on another thread discussing Oracles, I suggested that an Oracle using Beast Shape would not be able to cast spells with Somatic components since none of the applicable forms have proper hands (of course Still Spell would work), nor are Oracles able to take the natural spell feat.

Here's my opinions on the topic, but please reply below with your own.

Just a Mort wrote:
I've always wondered what consists being able to use somatic components for casting.

Here's the appropriate snip from the polymorph spells rules: (bolding emphasis is mine)

Quote:
When you cast a polymorph spell that changes you into a creature of the animal, dragon, elemental, magical beast, plant, or vermin type, all of your gear melds into your body. Items that provide constant bonuses and do not need to be activated continue to function while melded in this way (with the exception of armor and shield bonuses, which cease to function). Items that require activation cannot be used while you maintain that form. While in such a form, you cannot cast any spells that require material components (unless you have the Eschew Materials or Natural Spell feat), and can only cast spells with somatic or verbal components if the form you choose has the capability to make such movements or speak, such as a dragon.

I think the rules for Material components/Verbal components are pretty clear. With Material components you need a pouch, natural spell or eschew materials. For Verbal you need Natural Spell, Silent Spell or a form that can speak.

Somatic components are a bit more vague. Here's what the rules say about Somatic components:

Quote:
Somatic: A somatic component is a measured and precise movement of the hand.

I've always thought that was clear, but am second guessing myself now as this is not the first time my interpretation of this has been challenged.

I've always interpreted it as you need a hand, and that hand must be free, unrestricted, and able to make specific and precise gestures.

That would mean a paw wouldn't work, nor would a tentacle, or an appendage, or a talon. It would need to be a hand, as in an appendage with a thumb and some fingers.

When I look at the Natural Spell feat, it allows you to: "substitute various noises and gestures for the normal verbal and somatic components" which suggests to me that making gestures with something that is not capable precise movements of a hand does not satisfy the requirement unless you have the feat.

The rules specifically say that a Dragon meets the requirements. Illustrations I've seen in Pathfinder sources seem to be pretty consistent on the front appendages. 1 thumb and 3 fingers (all clawed). This fits with my previous assumption on the requirements.

However, then the question goes to:

Just a Mort wrote:
If it is hands, or claws, how do royal nagas and coutals cast? Neither of them have hands, both are snakes.

If you look at the feats of these creatures, Natural Spell is notoriously absent. How indeed do these creatures cast? They clearly would be unable to meet the somatic components for their spells.

Personally, I would say it's because according to the entry in the appropriate Bestiary...they can.

I know that is not a particularly satisfying answer, but I strongly suspect it is the correct one. I would suggest that they wouldn't need the Natural Spell feat to get the effect of the feat because that IS their natural form.

Just a Mort wrote:
Quite a number of magical beasts (kamadan, catobepas, chimera) speak a language, so spell casting as a magical beast should not be a problem, even though lunar oracled can never take natural spell.

Certainly any creature that speaks a language is going to be able to meet the verbal requirement of spellcasting, but you've made the conclusion that Somatic Components are unnecessary.

Here's the conclusion where we must disagree, and I would ask others to weigh in on their opinions.

The logic here appears to be "because they can cast in that form without somatic component, so can my character..."

My opinion would be that if you make a character who IS a Royal Naga, your character can cast spells. If your character takes the form of a Royal Naga, you would not (unless using the Still Spell feat or a spell without Somatic components)

Scarab Sages

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My take on it: The rules are written with human(oid)s PCs in mind. Since the races that PCs can be pretty much all have hands, that's what somatic components for PCs are assumed to use.

Somatic components for races that don't have hands but cast spells anyway use gestures appropriate for the creature. When polymorphing (or otherwise changing shape), you need appendages similar enough to what you normally have to perform the somatic components correctly, or you need some ability that allows you to use other gestures, such as the Natural Spell feat.

...Which is pretty similar to what you said in your last paragraph, which I would have noticed if I'd finished reading your post BEFORE writing mine. 8^)


First this isn't a somatic issue. Its a polymorph issue. You also make somisunderstandings.

1) polymorph only cares about shape and aether that shape has either an explicit ability to cast spells or an implied pattern.

If you are subject to a polymorph effect and it is humanoid or dragon shaped you are good. For creatures that can speak but do not have limbs polymorph does not convey the ability to make somatic gestures.

The fact that naga may r may not have somatic spells isn't relevant.

The problem with elementals is they are not defined well for manipulative digits. Though I think the consensus is they can wield weapons and cast spells.


Well, don't know how helpful, but I agree with your understanding, and thats how i play it (GM it).


I think it will come down to your own natural form. A humanoid caster spends his/her entire apprenticeship learning to cast spells with humanoid hands. Only later do they gain the ability to change shape at all and then have to spend time/effort (a feat) to be able to cast those same spells with similar/altered gestures with their new form.

A coatl will spend its life casting spells with its wings, tail, tongue, etc.

As a GM, I would rule that any spellcaster can cast spells while it is in its natural form but will need some feat or combination of feats to cast spells in a different form.


So far we all seem to be in agreement here.

If anyone reading this disagrees, don't be shy, I would love to hear your opinions. Would love for some discussion/debate on this topic.

When it comes up in other threads, there does not seem to be any consensus on this!

Mojorat wrote:
The problem with elementals is they are not defined well for manipulative digits. Though I think the consensus is they can wield weapons and cast spells.

Wait...did you say "wield weapons"?

So a fire elemental, as in made of fire can pick up and wield a sword?

When did we get consensus on that?

Scarab Sages

It generally comes from:

Elementals wrote:
Proficient with natural weapons only, unless generally humanoid in form, in which case proficient with all simple weapons and any weapons mentioned in its entry.

Nothing restricts weapon usage based on specific element, only body shape. Elementals, even air elementals, are neither incorporeal nor gaseous.


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I agree, but they just need to add that to the various Shape spells.

"Beast Shape: you generally can not use somatic gestures in this form. Speech for spellcasting is often impossible"

"Dragon shape: you generally can use somatic gestures in this form. Speech for spellcasting is normal."

I would say Elementals- No. I agree with Treatmonk here.

Giants- yes. Plants- no. Monstrous humanoid = yes. Undead= yes, but maybe a no on speech.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Treantmonk wrote:
My opinion would be that if you make a character who IS a Royal Naga, your character can cast spells. If your character takes the form of a Royal Naga, you would not (unless using the Still Spell feat or a spell without Somatic components).

My interpretation of the rules, too. You learn to cast your spell with your normal form. A human use precise movements of the hands for the somatic part. A naga use precise movement of its body, tail and tongue.

an amorphous blob use vibrations of its body and bubbles in its gel.

In past editions of the game I had players capture a dragon spellbook. They had to "translate" the movements of paws and wings in hand gesture to use the spell within.

Material components have a similar problem.
Example:
identify: Components V, S, M (wine stirred with an owl's feather)
Gargantuan creature with wizard levels will have a hard time stirring some wine with a normal howl feather.

Some spell ask for a pinch of powder. A pinch for a gargantuan creature is very different from a pinch for a diminutive creature.

So all components of a spell are different for differently shaped creatures and even for differently sized creatures.

Learning to cast spells in a form that isn't yours will reacquire training and it would be almost equivalent to re-learning your class level again.

Note that that can create problem when you consider creature that often shape change, like some dragon, but that kind of creature generally ahs a long lifespan, so they had the time to learn to cast spells in different forms an I would say that they have problem casting spells in forms to which they are unaccustomed.

To learn how to do that druid need to take a feat and are a class that has the innate advantage of a very long lasting change of form.

There is a big difference in learning to cast spells in animal form when you can spend 1/minute level in animal form for each polymorph spell you cant and being someone that can spend 1 hour/level in animal form 1 or more times in a day.


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marcryser wrote:

I think it will come down to your own natural form. A humanoid caster spends his/her entire apprenticeship learning to cast spells with humanoid hands. Only later do they gain the ability to change shape at all and then have to spend time/effort (a feat) to be able to cast those same spells with similar/altered gestures with their new form.

A coatl will spend its life casting spells with its wings, tail, tongue, etc.

As a GM, I would rule that any spellcaster can cast spells while it is in its natural form but will need some feat or combination of feats to cast spells in a different form.

This makes me think the copy of the core rulebook for Couatl's says you may only cast somatic spells when polymorphed if the form you take can make precise movements of tongue and wings, such as a dragon.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Treantmonk wrote:

So far we all seem to be in agreement here.

If anyone reading this disagrees, don't be shy, I would love to hear your opinions. Would love for some discussion/debate on this topic.

When it comes up in other threads, there does not seem to be any consensus on this!

Mojorat wrote:
The problem with elementals is they are not defined well for manipulative digits. Though I think the consensus is they can wield weapons and cast spells.

Wait...did you say "wield weapons"?

So a fire elemental, as in made of fire can pick up and wield a sword?

When did we get consensus on that?

Probably in the thread where some people agreed that a fire elemental is unable to put an object on fire (but he can put a creature on fire with a successful attack and a failed ST) and it don't emit light.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
DrDeth wrote:

I would say Elementals- No. I agree with Treatmonk here.

I have more problem with the material components for fire and water elementals.

Scarab Sages

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Diego Rossi wrote:
DrDeth wrote:

I would say Elementals- No. I agree with Treatmonk here.

I have more problem with the material components for fire and water elementals.

Are you going to allow the character in fire elemental form to start fires and emit light?

Are you going to allow the character in water elemental form to extinguish fires by moving over them or flow through narrow areas?

Don't add effects that are not in the rules, unless you are house ruling a home game.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I would think that a good approach might be to create an Adaptable Somatic Casting feat that would allow a polymorphed spell caster to enact somatic motions with any shape that is not completely amorphous... i.e. a blob. Such a shape should have, either two hands or paws free, two wings and a tail, or be completely free to move a serpentine body. This feat would not address the need for material components, happily we already have that need covered with the Eschew Materials feat.

The prerequisite would be the ability to cast a spell of the polymorph school.

P.S. I know ordinary spell casting only requires one hand free, the requirement I'm making is for shapes that really don't have a "proper" hand, the way chimps, humanoids, and dragons do.


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This one really has no rule. It will be left to table variation until Paizo makes an official decision. I allow them to cast spells for now. I just assume they have hands.


If Druidic wild shape was more like an unrestricted polymorph, perhaps you would have to choose a creature type, such as ranger chooses favored enemies. However, I believe Druids are restricted to animals and elementals, so no need to pick as the list is already slim.

A wizard or whatnot has a range of spells allowing all manner of shape changing with no restrictions except what is on its spell list. As is, the rules fall to GM fiat, which I have no problem with, and personally feel is shrinking the longer forums like this one and formal gaming societies are around. But we're not looking to encourage fiat here, are we?

If this for some reason became a problem at my table, I would propose something resembling the following. Any spellcaster can cast spells in its natural form. When changing shape to a significantly different form (needs further explanation or -sigh- fiat), the caster may loose the ability to provide certain components, such as verbal or somatic. A feat would be created, available without prereqs, to allow a creature to choose a creature type (one or more?). When changing shape to that form, the creature type counts as a natural form for the creature. Perhaps the feat would also specify that the character is always proficient with its natural weapons, is trained in "always class skill" skills, can speak its native language, whatever, just so it has benefit to anyone, not just casters. Details to be worked out.

For example, humanoids can cast spells while in forms like monstrous humanoid and outsider forms without restriction, unless the form selected lacks hands or the ability to speak. A humanoid with the feat who chooses humanoid can cast spells while in any humanoid form even if it lacks hands or the ability to speak. Likewise, a humanoid that selects any other form can cast spells while in the form selected, even if it lacks an ability that its true natural form possesses.

Hope that makes sense.

The Exchange

I've had an earth elemental shoot at me with a bow (wildshaped druid barb), been guilty of trying to give my earth elemental a hooked lance (cdg anyone?), only to be stopped by my vc :p.If someone turned into an ape(as per beast shape), and found a way to cast without vocal components (deaf curse, or ring of eloquence allowing you to speak), and eschew materials, does that mean an ape can use somatic gestures? Everyone would agree gorillas have hands like humans, no?

Anyway treantmonk, thanks a lot for creating this thread. I've always wanted to cast while in alernate forms, and I may not always be a druid. In particular magical beast special attacks have always interested me. And locally, most people dont have interest in the topic.


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Artanthos wrote:


Are you going to allow the character in fire elemental form to start fires and emit light?

A fire elemental can already start fires with the burn ability. That makes sense to me.

As for emitting light, see below*

Artanthos wrote:
Are you going to allow the character in water elemental form to extinguish fires by moving over them or flow through narrow areas?

A water elemental can already extinguish fires with the drench ability. That makes sense to me.

As for moving through narrow areas, see below*

Artanthos wrote:
Don't add effects that are not in the rules, unless you are house ruling a home game.

This statement is the differing view here.

*The rules are excellent for giving general guidelines on how to play, but they just can't cover everything, especially when players get creative.

The GREASE spell tells you how it works when you cast it on a target, or on an area.

Let's say you cast it on an area that is a steep downgrade just before the enemy runs down the slope. According to the rules, if he fails his REF save, he falls down and stays exactly in the place he falls so now you have a guy sitting on a greasy hill and not sliding.

In these cases the rules fall down. The grease spell is excellent for giving multiple uses, but it would be insane for the rules to cover every circumstance. That's why the game needs a GM.

In the example given, as a GM I would have the enemy slide to the edge of the Grease spell. If that sent him over a cliff, congrats to the players for being creative. If it happened to a player, I might be soft and give him a REF save to grab onto something before he went over.

In the case of taking the form of a Fire Elemental, if a player didn't like the existing rules for setting stuff on fire, too bad. There are rules for a Fire Elemental setting things on fire, so it's covered.

If a character wants the Fire Elemental form to emit light, it would seem to me inconceivable that it wouldn't. Torchlight seems to be the obvious realistic amount. If the rules disagree, then the rules have fallen down again, just like falling on Grease on the slope.

Now if a character in Water Elemental form wants to move through a narrow area, I would be more inclined to say he couldn't, since water elementals have a shape, and I'm not convinced they can change that shape. I would probably point out that humans are made primarily of water as well, but squishing them too much gets messy.

That said, if another GM went another way on that, I probably wouldn't bat an eyelash.

(I should mention, as it's probably relevant, that I only play "home" games)


Just a Mort wrote:
If someone turned into an ape(as per beast shape), and found a way to cast without vocal components (deaf curse, or ring of eloquence allowing you to speak), and eschew materials, does that mean an ape can use somatic gestures? Everyone would agree gorillas have hands like humans, no?

I would agree.

Just a Mort wrote:
Anyway treantmonk, thanks a lot for creating this thread.

Sometimes something like this comes up where I assume everyone would agree on how a rule should be used, then end up getting surprised when it turns out there are different interpretations.

Love to discuss and get all those different interpretations on the table so we can debate them and make up our own minds in the end once we have considered all the various assumptions.

Thanks for participating.

P.S.

I like casting in alternate forms too. Hopefully Pathfinder creates an alternative to the Natural Spell feat that could help out other casters taking other forms.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Treantmonk wrote:
Just a Mort wrote:
If someone turned into an ape(as per beast shape), and found a way to cast without vocal components (deaf curse, or ring of eloquence allowing you to speak), and eschew materials, does that mean an ape can use somatic gestures? Everyone would agree gorillas have hands like humans, no?

I would agree.

Just a Mort wrote:
Anyway treantmonk, thanks a lot for creating this thread.

Sometimes something like this comes up where I assume everyone would agree on how a rule should be used, then end up getting surprised when it turns out there are different interpretations.

Love to discuss and get all those different interpretations on the table so we can debate them and make up our own minds in the end once we have considered all the various assumptions.

Thanks for participating.

P.S.

I like casting in alternate forms too. Hopefully Pathfinder creates an alternative to the Natural Spell feat that could help out other casters taking other forms.

I put up one possibility as a start up thread. I do think that some care needs to be taken with this option though. We really don't want to create the equivalent of Wizarzilla with this.

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