What do the symbol spells actually look like?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


So I remember the official 3rd Ed book showed someone casting a symbol of pain and it looked sort of like a turtle.. which makes no sense. So what would be some better ideas? I was thinking

Death:Skull
Healing: Heart Shape
Sleep: ZZZ
Insanity: brain with a crack through it
pain: spikes and thorns
slowing: turtle would actally make sense here

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Generally, a symbol spell would be a rune, likely in whatever magical language your caster uses for spells, probably default to Abyssal, Celestial, or Infernal for cleric/oracles and draconic or fey for wizard/sorcerers


ok, but having the rune be pictographic would make sense as all language is originally based on pictographs/ideographs (writing with an alphabet system was invented much later.)


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Actual pictograms and stylised hieroglyphics, to say nothing of chinese logograms can all look quite different to the video game power symbols you're describing. And cooler, IMO.

Why assume a 7th level spell dates back to pre-alphabet days anyway?


avr wrote:

Actual pictograms and stylised hieroglyphics, to say nothing of chinese logograms can all look quite different to the video game power symbols you're describing. And cooler, IMO.

Why assume a 7th level spell dates back to pre-alphabet days anyway?

I think the implication is most spells in the books are really old. We know at least some date back to Thassilon which was something like 10000 years ago.


Yqatuba wrote:
avr wrote:

Actual pictograms and stylised hieroglyphics, to say nothing of chinese logograms can all look quite different to the video game power symbols you're describing. And cooler, IMO.

Why assume a 7th level spell dates back to pre-alphabet days anyway?

I think the implication is most spells in the books are really old. We know at least some date back to Thassilon which was something like 10000 years ago.

D&D-world histories get absurdly long. Eberron's went back millions of years, before even pictograms in RL. A quick look at Thassilon on pathfinderwiki shows that they have some fairly abstract runes there. Top right, I think those are the runes for the virtues or sins between the spiky bits. Tell me those are pictograms or hieroglyphs. Logograms maybe but not a simple pictogram of a skull or a heart.

Just because RL didn't have alphabets 10 000 years ago doesn't mean the same for Eberron, Golarion, Greyhawk or whatever either.


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Hang on, I have a picture of one here somewhere, let me take a look o̜h̩ ̝̣͍͕̙́n̳̩̩̱̜̻͕o̩͎̘̝̟͝


My impression is that these are inherently magical symbols, not any kind of writing or pictures.

There's no skull, because a skull is just a picture. Instead, there's a complex arrangement of form and color - not really resembling anything - that causes death.

(Besides, "ZZZ" for sleep? Three letters, really? Is the Symbol of Debauchery an "crossed out 18"/"Adults only" sign?)

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It all depends on the magical tradition. Remember, runes were supposed to have an innate magical power. And even now, symbols have power. You know what a red octagon means, or a circle with a dash through it. How much power can a sigil have when it has real magic behind it?


I like magic circles. Those can have all sorts of pictograms, glyphs, letters, and anything else laid out in complex arrangements. Also they look awesome; Instant Runes is a fantastic trope and fits especially well with Symbol spells.


What do you want them to look like? Because they look like that.


Late to the party, but...

The Priest's Spell Compendium has two different runes for each variant. One of them is probably from some FR source by Ed Greenwood, looking at the design.
Can't find them online, however.

avr wrote:


D&D-world histories get absurdly long.

At least if fans get involved.


The traditional explination for written spells is that there are literally hundreds (or more) of fundamentally different formula and writings for each spell. Most of these formula were independently researched and created. Some of those formulations cause a small change in the spell. The vast majority of them give the results found in the spell description with no alteration.

Spells and the way people transcribe them do not have a fixed form. There are many ways to get the same results.

Symbol spells should be no exception. That would give the expectation that several mages in a geographical area could get a copy of the same symbol spell and all of them would have the same appearance. But if another mage from the same master found a different copy of the same spell he could create a symbol that looks totally different but has the same results.

It is also possible that when a symbol spell is created it is like a snowflake. While the overall shape is similar to other snowflakes, this individual snowflake is unique because it forms according to the factors in its environment when it was created.

And ultimately, this entire discussion is meaningless since a symbol spell is an abstract concept where what it does is important to the players, and the description of its physical embodiment is utterly immaterial. By the time the players can see it, they have already been affected.

Scarab Sages

Meirril wrote:

The traditional explination for written spells is that there are literally hundreds (or more) of fundamentally different formula and writings for each spell. Most of these formula were independently researched and created. Some of those formulations cause a small change in the spell. The vast majority of them give the results found in the spell description with no alteration.

Spells and the way people transcribe them do not have a fixed form. There are many ways to get the same results.

Symbol spells should be no exception. That would give the expectation that several mages in a geographical area could get a copy of the same symbol spell and all of them would have the same appearance. But if another mage from the same master found a different copy of the same spell he could create a symbol that looks totally different but has the same results.

It is also possible that when a symbol spell is created it is like a snowflake. While the overall shape is similar to other snowflakes, this individual snowflake is unique because it forms according to the factors in its environment when it was created.

And ultimately, this entire discussion is meaningless since a symbol spell is an abstract concept where what it does is important to the players, and the description of its physical embodiment is utterly immaterial. By the time the players can see it, they have already been affected.

I am now picturing the first person to create one of these rune variants. "Hmmmm you know the symbol for sleep is T#@ but what if I change the # to a * T*@" Ehgnoeiuebegwjk Thud. "Mage Kettleborn is . . . oh sweet Caylen no, he's dead!"


What does a Symbol of Death look like? Nobody saw one and lived to tell the tale.

XD


Meirril wrote:
And ultimately, this entire discussion is meaningless since a symbol spell is an abstract concept where what it does is important to the players, and the description of its physical embodiment is utterly immaterial. By the time the players can see it, they have already been affected.

That's one way to look at it, I suppose.


I am way more inclined to believe that the symbols are more reminiscent of Doctor Strange's big orange lines of runic characters floating wherever he moves his hands, rather than some lame ClipArt from Windows'98.

Seriously, a skull, or a heart? No. Symbol spells can look like literally everything else except 1998 ClipArt images.


blahpers wrote:
Meirril wrote:
And ultimately, this entire discussion is meaningless since a symbol spell is an abstract concept where what it does is important to the players, and the description of its physical embodiment is utterly immaterial. By the time the players can see it, they have already been affected.
That's one way to look at it, I suppose.

From 65' away you can look at a symbol fairly safely. You might want a telescope for the finer details. Don't lean forward.


You do need to be able to read them from 60ft away, 3 times the distance of an eye test chart, so they need to be pretty distinct. Doing some rough math, the top E on an eye chart read at 60ft should be 21inches, so the 20/20 line at about 1/6th the height would be about 3.5 inches. That seems a bit large, and my vision is a bit better than normal so I can't really test it. Signage guides give you between 6inches and 1.5 inches at that distance, so 3.5 seems reasonable for minimum character size. Since you need to be able to write these on the frame of a door, you probably only get one character.

I'd expect you couldn't get much more than a simple geometric shape or two stacked together for this. That's the closest I can get to a real answer given what little we're told. Although I am making the assumption that the circle isn't arbitrarily large, or supernaturally legible. For all I know, looking at the circle could automatically cause it to fill your vision, or the circles are meant to be drawn around the door frame.

Scarab Sages

Well 20/20 is actually the human average there are those who have much better vision. One person could read the chart as well at 6m as a normal person could at 1.5m and theres plenty who have 20/10 vision.


I'm assuming spells are written with the average person in mind. If we instead assume that all possible viewers are considered, then "visible and legible at a distance of 60 feet" has some interesting implications for blind creatures. At that point we're back to the supernatural legibility concept.

I like the idea of a symbol of death being a scent or sensation, but I don't think that's intended.

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