What is the “Practical” difference between the 4 magic traditions?


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


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Hello Everyone. I’m trying to introduce some new players to Pathfinder 2e, but something that is causing some confusion is the differences between the 4 magic traditions. Pathfinder 2e divides magic into 4 traditions (Arcane, Divine, Occult and Primal), but there doesn’t seem to be a good explanation of the practical differences for each tradition. Yes, the 2e SRD says that Arcane Magic is “built on logic and rationality” while Occult Magic “seeks to understand the unexplainable, categorize the bizarre, and otherwise access the ephemeral in a systematic way”, but from a gameplay perspective, that doesn’t really explain what types of spells Arcane magic would have that Occult would not.

The most obvious practical difference between the 4 magic traditions is that Arcane magic doesn’t have any healing spells, whereas all of the other schools do. The SRD also states that Arcane magic has the broadest spell list, but doesn’t elaborate on what types of spells that would include. I rather not tell my players to read the entire spell list for each tradition and figure it out for themselves. Can anyone provide a practical explanation as to what type of spells each magic tradition contains?


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Arcane: The list that have everything except healing, will have a good variety of damage spells, good debuffs, some decent buffs and lot of utility.

Divine: Lots of Healing, buffs that gives status bonus, ton of damage spells that target alignment and the ones that don't target alignment are usually Fire or negative energy.

Occult: Have mainly buffs and debuffs, the debuffs usually target Will saves and their damaging spells usually cause mental damage.

Primal: Have a good amount of Healing and a ton of damaging spells that are usually cold, fire, lightning or acid, their utility spells are usually nature related.


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In general, noting that there are outliers on each list.

Divine - healing, holy, positive, negative damage, some blasting and buffing

Occult - buffs and debuffs, single target damage spells. A lot of mental magic and illusions.

Primal - nature themed spells, entangle, barkskin, that sort of thing. A lot of blasts and polymorphs.

Arcane - buffs, debuffs, blasts, illusions, utility, etc.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

It's supposed to be mostly about the sources of the magic. Divine magic is typically granted by deities. Occult magic is usually granted by some kind of connection to otherworldly spirits. Primal magic is usually granted by natural sources like totem animals or the world itself. Arcane magic just is, and gets accessed through either study or inherent ability.

The spell lists for each tradition are purely an attempt to take those general sources and categorize what spells might belong to each. Technically it's arbitrary, but the idea (in a very broad sense) is that magic that encourages plants to grow would usually come from a primal source, while magic that heals (or causes) diseases might come from a divine source, while blasty spells or utility spells might come from arcane sources, and spooky spells might come from occult sources.


Thanks everyone for your replies, especially from Kyrone and Garretmander. My players were having a difficult time understanding what the actual difference in play will be between the 4 schools of magic, and I think your descriptions of each tradition is exactly what they are looking for. This will help a lot in finalizing their class selections.


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I find ordering them by there base components helps in understanding the foundation and where each spell list will overlap.

Primal - matter and life
Arcane - matter and mind
Occult - spirit and mind
Divine - Spirt and life

Primal and occult are diametrically opposed, and you can see from the spell lists, they have every few spells that overlap

the same is true for Arcane and Divine.

I assume that someday the Shaman class with introduce the Matter and spirit tradition

and either the Psychic or kineticist will introduce the mind and life tradition


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ikarinokami wrote:

I find ordering them by there base components helps in understanding the foundation and where each spell list will overlap.

Primal - matter and life
Arcane - matter and mind
Occult - spirit and mind
Divine - Spirt and life

Primal and occult are diametrically opposed, and you can see from the spell lists, they have every few spells that overlap

the same is true for Arcane and Divine.

I assume that someday the Shaman class with introduce the Matter and spirit tradition

and either the Psychic or kineticist will introduce the mind and life tradition

While they may very well do that, I believe the devs have said that they don't want to introduce new spell lists just for the sake of making more combinations. So the Shaman could be primal based, the psychic could be occult based, and the kineticist might not even be a caster in the traditional sense.


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Salamileg wrote:
ikarinokami wrote:

I find ordering them by there base components helps in understanding the foundation and where each spell list will overlap.

Primal - matter and life
Arcane - matter and mind
Occult - spirit and mind
Divine - Spirt and life

Primal and occult are diametrically opposed, and you can see from the spell lists, they have every few spells that overlap

the same is true for Arcane and Divine.

I assume that someday the Shaman class with introduce the Matter and spirit tradition

and either the Psychic or kineticist will introduce the mind and life tradition

While they may very well do that, I believe the devs have said that they don't want to introduce new spell lists just for the sake of making more combinations. So the Shaman could be primal based, the psychic could be occult based, and the kineticist might not even be a caster in the traditional sense.

Honestly I think it could be really cool if Shaman had ritual focused spellcasting. Like rather than traditional vanician magic they just had access to lots of rituals and maybe some martial training.


I like to think of the schools in terms of save targeting and recovery as the options:

Arcane: Ref primary, Will primary, Fort secondary
Occult: Will primary, Fort Secondary, Recovery Secondary
Divine: Recovery Primary, Fort Secondary, Will Secondary
Primal: Ref primary, Fort Primary, Recovery Secondary

There's a little play in that categorization, and you have to infer the types of buffs given by the save targeting. I'd say it holds up, though.


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JeffreyT wrote:

Hello Everyone. I’m trying to introduce some new players to Pathfinder 2e, but something that is causing some confusion is the differences between the 4 magic traditions. Pathfinder 2e divides magic into 4 traditions (Arcane, Divine, Occult and Primal), but there doesn’t seem to be a good explanation of the practical differences for each tradition. Yes, the 2e SRD says that Arcane Magic is “built on logic and rationality” while Occult Magic “seeks to understand the unexplainable, categorize the bizarre, and otherwise access the ephemeral in a systematic way”, but from a gameplay perspective, that doesn’t really explain what types of spells Arcane magic would have that Occult would not.

The most obvious practical difference between the 4 magic traditions is that Arcane magic doesn’t have any healing spells, whereas all of the other schools do. The SRD also states that Arcane magic has the broadest spell list, but doesn’t elaborate on what types of spells that would include. I rather not tell my players to read the entire spell list for each tradition and figure it out for themselves. Can anyone provide a practical explanation as to what type of spells each magic tradition contains?

Its basically the classic D&D spells that have been around for ~45 years. There really isn't much more to it than that on the practical level.

Arcane = Wizard, more or less unaltered
Divine = Cleric, minus some of the major buffs from 3rd edition/PF1
Primal = Druid + blasty wizard spells
Occult = Wizard & Cleric support spells plus tentacles, colors and some strays (because Cthulhu).

The essences explanations exist, but if you change the flavor text of various spells (ie, make them do the same thing in a different way) you can add or subtract various spells from the lists they're currently on.


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What Voss said. The essences idea came after the lists were written.

I think they intended to make the lists class agnostic, but the end result doesn't fully realize that intention. Arcane is the Wizard list. Whatever class also gets it later, it was written as the Wizard class spell list, and reflects the wizard class fantasy of "everything but the holy font." Same with "Cleric" for "Divine" and "Druid" for "Primal." The Occult list comes closest to standing on its own, but...it's roughly 80% the Arcane list, less the big blasts but including some healing and tentacles.

All that said, I HEARTILY approve the new summon spells. Those were written with the essence list in mind, and they did a great job in matching them to the appropriate lists, making the hard choices like not letting wizards summon imps willy-nilly anymore.


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ikarinokami wrote:

I assume that someday the Shaman class with introduce the Matter and spirit tradition

and either the Psychic or kineticist will introduce the mind and life tradition

I believe what the Dev's have said is that these two combinations don't exist as these are opposed elements.


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Kelseus wrote:
ikarinokami wrote:

I assume that someday the Shaman class with introduce the Matter and spirit tradition

and either the Psychic or kineticist will introduce the mind and life tradition

I believe what the Dev's have said is that these two combinations don't exist as these are opposed elements.

Before the most recent playtest, I would have taken the "never say never" attitude, with the mindset that the rules are all made up anyways and they can always change their mind. Now, however, I think we'll more likely see a class with two or more spelllists to choose from instead of a whole new tradition opening up. Like the Shaman will one day be able to choose between the Occult or Primal rather than creating a new Matter/Spirit list.

Liberty's Edge

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AnimatedPaper wrote:
What Voss said. The essences idea came after the lists were written.

This isn't strictly true. They had basic ideas for lists, certainly, but there was a whole lot of refinement of the list to be accurate based on the Essences thereafter.

Spells like Bind soul, Wail of the Banshee, and Overwhelming Presence were available to Wizards in PF1 but aren't on the Arcane list because they decided they were affiliated with different Essences (all three of those examples are Spiritual and thus found exclusively on the Occult and Divine lists). While something like Foresight, which was a Druid spell in PF1, is unavailable on the Primal list due to not being appropriate to the very physical nature of Material and Vital.

Now whether you agree with all those choices is another matter, but the fact is that all four lists have a tighter thematic focus tied to their two Essences.


Well, I said 'classic D&D' for a reason. But yes, there was a bit of pruning, however wizard definitely got the least (beyond the global hit to buff spells)
----

But the essence thing is easily fudged anyway.

Fireball is an arcane and now primal spell, but isn't on Divine and Occult spell lists. Fine

But...
Flamestrike is an divine spell and a perfectly fine way to divinely blast people with fire. If you wanted to do a third level version of flamestrike (maybe lightning themed for a classic Lightning Smite cliche) I can't think of any reason that wouldn't be fine from an essence perspective. In fact, I'm not sure why there aren't 1st-4th level divine smites already (obviously 5th-9th exist, because you can heighten flamestrike). From an essence perspective flamestrike is apparently perfectly fine, so there isn't really a reason not to have more divine blaster spells.

Similarly, occult has magic missile and phantom pain. A 3rd level 'forceblast' or a 5th level 'wave of agony' that does mental damage (basically a reskinned cone of cold) seems entirely on the essence brand.

You might need to jiggle some numbers around, but there is a lot of wiggle room based on what's already on the various spell lists.


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AnimatedPaper wrote:
making the hard choices like not letting wizards summon imps willy-nilly anymore.

I feel like this is one of my least favorite decisions. Wizard messing around with otherworldly stuff is a pretty classic fantasy trope and making that entirely the purview of the cleric destroys a ton of character concepts for no real gain.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Diabolists will still be a thing, it’s just that they will be a thing rather than simply giving the Wizard summon spells.

Same applies to other summoner (little s) styles. I believe Bestiary 2 and the APG will be addressing that.


Voss wrote:

Well, I said 'classic D&D' for a reason. But yes, there was a bit of pruning, however wizard definitely got the least (beyond the global hit to buff spells)

----

But the essence thing is easily fudged anyway.

Fireball is an arcane and now primal spell, but isn't on Divine and Occult spell lists. Fine

But...
Flamestrike is an divine spell and a perfectly fine way to divinely blast people with fire. If you wanted to do a third level version of flamestrike (maybe lightning themed for a classic Lightning Smite cliche) I can't think of any reason that wouldn't be fine from an essence perspective. In fact, I'm not sure why there aren't 1st-4th level divine smites already (obviously 5th-9th exist, because you can heighten flamestrike). From an essence perspective flamestrike is apparently perfectly fine, so there isn't really a reason not to have more divine blaster spells.

Similarly, occult has magic missile and phantom pain. A 3rd level 'forceblast' or a 5th level 'wave of agony' that does mental damage (basically a reskinned cone of cold) seems entirely on the essence brand.

You might need to jiggle some numbers around, but there is a lot of wiggle room based on what's already on the various spell lists.

I think Flame Strike is on the Divine list for historical reasons rather than current design reasons. I'd expect to see less spells like it to get added to the divine list as a result of the new design.

For the Occult list, Spirit Song indicates that they will likely add something like a mid level Cone of Cold that targets Fort on the occult list at some point. Similarly, there could be a mid level multi-target Weird/PK/Phantom Pain. Still, it looks like they are intentionally putting less AOE on the Occult list, so I'd expect to see some drawbacks on any spell like this.


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AnimatedPaper wrote:
All that said, I HEARTILY approve the new summon spells. Those were written with the essence list in mind, and they did a great job in matching them to the appropriate lists, making the hard choices like not letting wizards summon imps willy-nilly anymore.

I think I would have preferred a general Summon Monster spell, and then limited it in what it could summon based on the caster's tradition. So a Primal Summon Monster would have summoned animals, plants, fungi, fey, giants, and elementals. A Divine Summon Monster would get Celestials or Fiends. That would have been nicer for spontaneous casters.

Liberty's Edge

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Squiggit wrote:
AnimatedPaper wrote:
making the hard choices like not letting wizards summon imps willy-nilly anymore.
I feel like this is one of my least favorite decisions. Wizard messing around with otherworldly stuff is a pretty classic fantasy trope and making that entirely the purview of the cleric destroys a ton of character concepts for no real gain.

Actual diabolism is the realm of Planar Binding which, in fact, remains a use of the Arcane or Occult side of things. Similar, less powerful, Rituals for something like an imp familiar seem very likely to show up at some point, and could likewise be Arcane or Occult.

All Wizards can't do that they could before is summon temporary demons and devils as disposable minions. Which seems pretty reasonable to me.


I wonder if there will be a feat that lets you add things to your summoning spell lists, maybe as long as the thing uses your tradition for its innate spells. That would add Rakshasas to occult summoning list (I can see them adopting the Yugoloth fiendish mercenary role). I could see Oni as innately-casting-arcane fiends and Agathions as innately-casting-primal celestials.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Staffan Johansson wrote:
AnimatedPaper wrote:
All that said, I HEARTILY approve the new summon spells. Those were written with the essence list in mind, and they did a great job in matching them to the appropriate lists, making the hard choices like not letting wizards summon imps willy-nilly anymore.
I think I would have preferred a general Summon Monster spell, and then limited it in what it could summon based on the caster's tradition. So a Primal Summon Monster would have summoned animals, plants, fungi, fey, giants, and elementals. A Divine Summon Monster would get Celestials or Fiends. That would have been nicer for spontaneous casters.

For my money, I would have liked to see something along the lines of the starfinder version of the spell, with a basic elemental summon that you add templates onto based on your tradition, your class specialization, or even your patron deity. I know they simply didn't have the page count to pull that off, but that's what I would have preferred.

Maybe they'll bring in something like that for the summoner class? I could actually see that, as you'd also be able to use the summon creature templates as the start for eidolon templates.


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AnimatedPaper wrote:
For my money, I would have liked to see something along the lines of the starfinder version of the spell, with a basic elemental summon that you add templates onto based on your tradition, your class specialization, or even your patron deity. I know they simply didn't have the page count to pull that off, but that's what I would have preferred.

I don't know. I mean, I see the appeal in having the spell's power being firmly delineated in the spell itself, but at the same time there's something satisfying about summoning things that exist outside the context of the spell itself. Summoning a redcap to deal with my foes is cooler than summoning a thing that's only defined by having an attack bonus of +15 and dealing 15 hp/attack.


Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Queaux wrote:
Voss wrote:

Well, I said 'classic D&D' for a reason. But yes, there was a bit of pruning, however wizard definitely got the least (beyond the global hit to buff spells)

----

But the essence thing is easily fudged anyway.

Fireball is an arcane and now primal spell, but isn't on Divine and Occult spell lists. Fine

But...
Flamestrike is an divine spell and a perfectly fine way to divinely blast people with fire. If you wanted to do a third level version of flamestrike (maybe lightning themed for a classic Lightning Smite cliche) I can't think of any reason that wouldn't be fine from an essence perspective. In fact, I'm not sure why there aren't 1st-4th level divine smites already (obviously 5th-9th exist, because you can heighten flamestrike). From an essence perspective flamestrike is apparently perfectly fine, so there isn't really a reason not to have more divine blaster spells.

Similarly, occult has magic missile and phantom pain. A 3rd level 'forceblast' or a 5th level 'wave of agony' that does mental damage (basically a reskinned cone of cold) seems entirely on the essence brand.

You might need to jiggle some numbers around, but there is a lot of wiggle room based on what's already on the various spell lists.

I think Flame Strike is on the Divine list for historical reasons rather than current design reasons. I'd expect to see less spells like it to get added to the divine list as a result of the new design.

For the Occult list, Spirit Song indicates that they will likely add something like a mid level Cone of Cold that targets Fort on the occult list at some point. Similarly, there could be a mid level multi-target Weird/PK/Phantom Pain. Still, it looks like they are intentionally putting less AOE on the Occult list, so I'd expect to see some drawbacks on any spell like this.

it does raise an interesting question though- as the spells stacks up, 'exceptions' are going to increase as well, which is fine, but eventually, its going to be much easier to create a divine list blaster, I wonder if that's part of the vision. Also the Divine list and Occult list (and Primal too of course) are going to balloon.

Even though they could keep the same proportion we have now, in absolute terms, we're going to see a massive increase in the versatility of the non-arcane lists, which I know is supposed to be some of it's advantage?

Still, I trust the design team to know what they're doing with it.


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The-Magic-Sword wrote:
Even though they could keep the same proportion we have now, in absolute terms, we're going to see a massive increase in the versatility of the non-arcane lists, which I know is supposed to be some of it's advantage?

Well, that's probably one place where I genuinely disagree with the designers. I like the idea of diffferences between the spell lists, and that some lists are better if you want to be a healer, or a blaster, or a puppet master, but I STRONGLY dislike "Versitility" being an advantage attached to any of the lists. I fully get the traditional reasons for it. I simply dislike it, especially in a system where we only have 4 lists and they are not restricted to one class a piece. I'd have a different opinion if the Arcane list was just the wizard list and no one else could access it; I have much less of a problem if Wizard's shtick was versatility than if Arcane Witches, Arcane Sorcerers, and eventually Arcane Magi all ALSO had versatility as their thing due to that being attached to the list instead of the class.

Note, this is all just my own personal preference. I don't think it would make a better overall game, just more fun for me personally.


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AnimatedPaper wrote:
The-Magic-Sword wrote:
Even though they could keep the same proportion we have now, in absolute terms, we're going to see a massive increase in the versatility of the non-arcane lists, which I know is supposed to be some of it's advantage?

Well, that's probably one place where I genuinely disagree with the designers. I like the idea of diffferences between the spell lists, and that some lists are better if you want to be a healer, or a blaster, or a puppet master, but I STRONGLY dislike "Versitility" being an advantage attached to any of the lists. I fully get the traditional reasons for it. I simply dislike it, especially in a system where we only have 4 lists and they are not restricted to one class a piece. I'd have a different opinion if the Arcane list was just the wizard list and no one else could access it; I have much less of a problem if Wizard's shtick was versatility than if Arcane Witches, Arcane Sorcerers, and eventually Arcane Magi all ALSO had versatility as their thing due to that being attached to the list instead of the class.

Note, this is all just my own personal preference. I don't think it would make a better overall game, just more fun for me personally.

The arcane list is only marginally more versatile right now due to historical reasons. The lack of recovery magic does seriously cut into it's versatility, though. It does actually lack some of the Fort save targeting effects, though I think it got more of the Necromancy spells than it deserves due to liches traditionally being arcane casters.

I think the depiction of liches need to shift to be more clerical.


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Divine Magic focuses on spells that enable you to solve problems, but don't solve problems on their own. It can provide for necessities, release restraints, clear curses, and heal wounds, or blind your enemies, but you have to be the one to go out and kill the monster, not the magic.

The few spells that do solve your problems for you, tend to also be weaker than similar spells from other lists, like how Flame Strike has a much smaller radius than Fireball, has a higher level requirement, and does less damage than an equivalent-level fireball.


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Queaux wrote:
AnimatedPaper wrote:
The-Magic-Sword wrote:
Even though they could keep the same proportion we have now, in absolute terms, we're going to see a massive increase in the versatility of the non-arcane lists, which I know is supposed to be some of it's advantage?

Well, that's probably one place where I genuinely disagree with the designers. I like the idea of diffferences between the spell lists, and that some lists are better if you want to be a healer, or a blaster, or a puppet master, but I STRONGLY dislike "Versitility" being an advantage attached to any of the lists. I fully get the traditional reasons for it. I simply dislike it, especially in a system where we only have 4 lists and they are not restricted to one class a piece. I'd have a different opinion if the Arcane list was just the wizard list and no one else could access it; I have much less of a problem if Wizard's shtick was versatility than if Arcane Witches, Arcane Sorcerers, and eventually Arcane Magi all ALSO had versatility as their thing due to that being attached to the list instead of the class.

Note, this is all just my own personal preference. I don't think it would make a better overall game, just more fun for me personally.

The arcane list is only marginally more versatile right now due to historical reasons. The lack of recovery magic does seriously cut into it's versatility, though. It does actually lack some of the Fort save targeting effects, though I think it got more of the Necromancy spells than it deserves due to liches traditionally being arcane casters.

I think the depiction of liches need to shift to be more clerical.

In fairness, this is apparently something they grappled with internally as well, with Mark mentioning that he wanted to prune back the Arcane list more heavily to better match the essences thing, and keep hitting the wall of another designer or developer going "This spell is really cool, why can't my wizard cast it?"

Strong agree on necromancy in general and the lich thing in particular. I was also delighted to see Lesser Deaths cast innate divine magic. I would have tried to take Animate dead away from Arcane, making it only a Occult/Divine, but I'm happy enough about outsiders being the purview of Divine casters.


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The more I think about it, the more I think making the four magical traditions such a big underpinning of PF2 was a mistake.

It is clear that the overall purpose of the traditions was to create the Wizard, Cleric, and Druid spell lists. The occult list is a bit weird because it has to both cover traditional bardic stuff, because one of its jobs is to be the bard spell list, and also weird Lovecraftian stuff because that's what Occult does in PF.

The problem is that this constrains later design. We already saw this with the Witch playtest, where instead of getting their own custom list the Witch gets a tradition based on their patron. It would also make it hard to create an Artificer class (á la Eberron) without giving them a custom spell list.

A related issue is that separating class abilities and spell lists creates problems. In the core system we mainly see this with divine-powered sorcerers, where many people have reported that they feel like they're not pulling their weight, neither being able to replicate the support power and versatility of a cleric nor the blasting power of a wizard. The cleric is based around the divine list, while the sorcerer isn't.

I believe they should either have gone harder for magical traditions being the underlying mechanic that classes get to access, backwards compability be damned, or abandoned the concept altogether. If they were going for magical traditions, they should probably have gone for at least one more essence/tradition, because you can do many more interesting relations with five items than you can with four (which is part of why the color system in Magic: the Gathering works so well).


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You know, I was just thinking how there are 6 big things that magic can do it Pathfinder:

1. Blasts
2. Terrain control
3. Mind Games (illusions/enchantments)
4. Combat and skill enhancements
5. Restoration
6. Debuffs

There's other stuff that this list doesn't cover, and more spells that either fall in between, or can be argued as hitting multiple ones, like summons could be combat enhancement, or a semi-autonomous blast, or even terrain control, depending on what you summon and how you use it, but I feel these are the 6 big ones.

But when I had thought about that, I realized that these categories correlate strongly with the 4 essences, wth debuffs straddling the line between Mind and Spirit, and Blasts and Terrain control combined into Matter (some terrain control leaks into Mind via illusion spells). Obvious, I know, but it just wasn't something I had thought about too much.

A 5th essence of Shadow would slide in neatly between Mind and Spirit I think. Mind has too many spells attached to it, so breaking that one up would make the most sense. Leave Mind with enchantments, skill enhancers, and divinations, while giving Shadow the illusions and a good chunk of Save vs suck. With this configuration, we'd get:
1. Arcane: Shadow, Mind, and Matter
2. Occult: Mind, Shadow, Spirit
3. ???: Shadow, Spirit, Life. Don't know what to call this one, but this is your bard list. Witches become the flagship Occult casters.
4. Divine: Spirit, Life, Matter. Lets divine casters have an excuse for the blasts they so crave. OFFICIALLY "Matter" is a manipulation of the inner planes, while spirit is the connection to the outer planes, but I see no reason why Divine casters can't act the bridge between.
4. Primal: Matter, Life, and Mind. No, I'm not crazy, most of the animal compulsion spells fit more thematically as "Mind" imo, even if they're on the Primal list. Giving Primal access to the Mind essence solves that neatly.

Edit: I know this whole post is just wishful thinking, but it was a fun thought exercise and let me really think about where I would have taken the essence concept given infinite time to pull it all off, which the devs certainly didn't have.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Staffan Johansson wrote:

The more I think about it, the more I think making the four magical traditions such a big underpinning of PF2 was a mistake.

It is clear that the overall purpose of the traditions was to create the Wizard, Cleric, and Druid spell lists. The occult list is a bit weird because it has to both cover traditional bardic stuff, because one of its jobs is to be the bard spell list, and also weird Lovecraftian stuff because that's what Occult does in PF.

The problem is that this constrains later design. We already saw this with the Witch playtest, where instead of getting their own custom list the Witch gets a tradition based on their patron. It would also make it hard to create an Artificer class (á la Eberron) without giving them a custom spell list.

A related issue is that separating class abilities and spell lists creates problems. In the core system we mainly see this with divine-powered sorcerers, where many people have reported that they feel like they're not pulling their weight, neither being able to replicate the support power and versatility of a cleric nor the blasting power of a wizard. The cleric is based around the divine list, while the sorcerer isn't.

I believe they should either have gone harder for magical traditions being the underlying mechanic that classes get to access, backwards compability be damned, or abandoned the concept altogether. If they were going for magical traditions, they should probably have gone for at least one more essence/tradition, because you can do many more interesting relations with five items than you can with four (which is part of why the color system in Magic: the Gathering works so well).

I think this is overstated, while the Wizard/Druid/Cleric (and to lesser extent the Bard) represent each of the lists as a primary archetype, I definitely feel like it's valid to regard that 'feel' as separate from the classes and instead have them represent categories of spell casting classes. I can say I like it better this way, because it makes the magic system feel more unified and less arbitrary, while still leaving room for classes to allow exceptions and provide more spells.

As for the bard itself, I feel that is more far reaching than you might be giving it credit for, it isn't that it's both bard stuff *and* weird Lovecraftian stuff, its that the Bard is now in the sphere of Pathfinder's take on the "weird Lovecraftian Stuff" (the magic of the mind and soul.) Its the magic of esoteric lore, and of hags and such- its not scientific like Arcane, it doesn't come from the gods like Divine, and it doesn't flow from the natural world like Primal. It comes out of the soul, and the shadows, and to me at least, it really clicks with Bards as masters of lore and legend-- the kind of Mage that might learn magic by researching ancient folktales about strange entities and the spells of hags, and employ shadowy magic of illusion, and that influence the mind and soul, as magical bards do tend to ensorcel people.

By the same token I don't think anything was wrong with the Witch as a prepared equivalent to the sorcerer either for similar reasons, its actually an example of the system potentially working very well. A patron spell caster *should* be radically different based off the nature of the patron, and if you compare it to say 5e's warlock or the PF1 Witch, it's a dramatically stronger representation of that, because it has an intuitive mechanic to rely on. Individual classes that share a spell list can be differentiated by their other class features- like Divine font, or the Curse mechanic on the Oracle.

I think the big issue with Divine Sorcerers is that the Divine spell list is just a bit harder to use overall, an angelic sorcerer makes for a great healer alternative to the Cleric, and the Diabolic Sorcerer's Hellfire Plume should make it quite powerful, if used properly in tandem with the rest of the list. But because spellcasters were brought into balance, the complexity aspect of picking the right spells and managing them is more balanced when you do it right, and therefore weaker when you do it wrong.


while I agree it's not generally a huge problem, it does feel to me like the Divine list really was built to be the Cleric list.

There aren't a lot of good fallback options in the spell list. You can specialize pretty hard in buffing or condition removal but when you don't need those it can be hard to find a reasonably ubiquitous option.

For the Cleric, that's fine, because they get better weapons than most casters via favored weapon, the ability to cherry pick a focus spell via domains and bonus top level spells via Font.

But for classes like the Sorcerer or Playtest Oracle, it can end up feeling like they're floundering a bit with their spell list because they don't have those alternate options to the same extent.

AnimatedPaper wrote:
In fairness, this is apparently something they grappled with internally as well, with Mark mentioning that he wanted to prune back the Arcane list more heavily to better match the essences thing, and keep hitting the wall of another designer or developer going "This spell is really cool, why can't my wizard cast it?"

This is sort of why I think the emphasis should be less on what a spell list should be allowed to do and more how they should accomplish it. Otherwise we run the risk of shutting down concepts just for the sake of niche protection and I don't think that really helps long term.


Squiggit wrote:

while I agree it's not generally a huge problem, it does feel to me like the Divine list really was built to be the Cleric list.

There aren't a lot of good fallback options in the spell list. You can specialize pretty hard in buffing or condition removal but when you don't need those it can be hard to find a reasonably ubiquitous option.

For the Cleric, that's fine, because they get better weapons than most casters via favored weapon, the ability to cherry pick a focus spell via domains and bonus top level spells via Font.

But for classes like the Sorcerer or Playtest Oracle, it can end up feeling like they're floundering a bit with their spell list because they don't have those alternate options to the same extent.

AnimatedPaper wrote:
In fairness, this is apparently something they grappled with internally as well, with Mark mentioning that he wanted to prune back the Arcane list more heavily to better match the essences thing, and keep hitting the wall of another designer or developer going "This spell is really cool, why can't my wizard cast it?"
This is sort of why I think the emphasis should be less on what a spell list should be allowed to do and more how they should accomplish it. Otherwise we run the risk of shutting down concepts just for the sake of niche protection and I don't think that really helps long term.

The Divine list is certainly the most anemic. That could certainly have to do with the Cleric and Divine Sorcerer both having access to spells outside of the Divine list. Then again, perhaps that's the design of the Divine list, and it's really meant to be paired with additional options.


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So based on the discussion so far, it seems like the main practical reason for the 4 magic traditions (read spell list) is to reduce the amounts of upkeep that results from having multiple spell lists. With the 4 essences acting as additional guidelines as to what type of spells those list predominantly have, without relying solely on "what class is this for". Both things allow in theory for the devs to have more control and ease when designing spells and classes.

However 4 spell lists, also has the immidiate problem of less base options when designing a new class. Which is important when the biggest difference between 2 casters is the type of spells they can prepare. This is further undermined by the decrease in adding new spells to a spell list, which makes classes differentiating themselves harder.

This was clearly visible in the Witch playtest, where the Witch with the Arcane spell list ended up looking as "just another Wizard". And the Oracle was just a worst Divine Sorcerer (but that was probably because of the mystery focus spells).


I would add that I haven't seen anything that would lock things into the current 4 essences, either. So the idea of adding new essences, with the associated spell lists, Sorcerer variants, etc., along with adding in a crop of new spells to go with the theme, isn't entirely out of the realm of possibility.

As was mentioned upthread, a Shadow essence would make good use of existing spells and add in some others, plus definitions for Shadow Sorcerers and any other classes to make use of it.


Queaux wrote:
Squiggit wrote:

while I agree it's not generally a huge problem, it does feel to me like the Divine list really was built to be the Cleric list.

There aren't a lot of good fallback options in the spell list. You can specialize pretty hard in buffing or condition removal but when you don't need those it can be hard to find a reasonably ubiquitous option.

For the Cleric, that's fine, because they get better weapons than most casters via favored weapon, the ability to cherry pick a focus spell via domains and bonus top level spells via Font.

But for classes like the Sorcerer or Playtest Oracle, it can end up feeling like they're floundering a bit with their spell list because they don't have those alternate options to the same extent.

AnimatedPaper wrote:
In fairness, this is apparently something they grappled with internally as well, with Mark mentioning that he wanted to prune back the Arcane list more heavily to better match the essences thing, and keep hitting the wall of another designer or developer going "This spell is really cool, why can't my wizard cast it?"
This is sort of why I think the emphasis should be less on what a spell list should be allowed to do and more how they should accomplish it. Otherwise we run the risk of shutting down concepts just for the sake of niche protection and I don't think that really helps long term.
The Divine list is certainly the most anemic. That could certainly have to do with the Cleric and Divine Sorcerer both having access to spells outside of the Divine list. Then again, perhaps that's the design of the Divine list, and it's really meant to be paired with additional options.

That seems to be the way they’re handling it. Clerics get access to certain other spells based on the deity they worship, and Divine Sorcerers can get access to those spells too with a feat in Gods and Magic.


That's debatable, Cleric, unless they worship a deity of Magic only have 3 more spells, of vastly varying usefulness, so I doubt it is in any way linked to the Divine spell lists.


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I don't think they are locked into 4 essences, but they made them so big that it will be hard to make more. When people talk about shadow, I think they are thinking about a handful of spells, and that is an order of magnitude too small.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

No actually. When I was analyzing the playtest spell list, one of the things that jumped out was that the spells I assumed were on the "Mind" essence, due to being on both Arcane and Occult but not on Divine or Primal, was that the Mind had roughly half again as many spells as either Matter or Spirit. Vital had a grand total of 11 spells going by this method, so clearly it didn't sort everything, but those were the guidelines I went with.

Mind seemingly covered most of the illusion school (due to tricking the mind), all offensive enchantments, divinations and communication, force effects and anything else touching the astral plane, emotion spells (which surprised me; I expected those as either spirit or vital), some curse and debuff effects, and a good amount of skill utility spells. Some of that wandered over to being pure magic rather than linked to any particular essence in the CRB, but not all, and it's still the biggest of the 4.

So like I said, split off the illusion spells and curse effects, along with the spells that touch on the Shadow plane like Shadow Walk and Shadow Blast, and some necromancy and conjuration spells for flavor, and you wind up with a good amount to work with. More than Life at least, certainly.

I've become less enamored with the idea upon further thought, but it didn't come from nowhere.


If its about more essences I dont know how I would had made it. If they are too broad then they are meaning less, but if they are too narrow then they would just be descriptors or spell schools.

Maybe the best combination would be Elemental/Material, Kinematic/Temporal, Mind, Spirit, and Vital. Or maybe its something like: Material, Though, Perception, Spirit, and Vital.

The important difference between though and perception being that one can change how they interact but not how they think and vice versa. Illusion spells change the way a target sees the world, but charm spells change the way the target interacts with it.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Spirit is the one I keep tripping over, to be honest. I vaguely recall that it did have an actual unifying theme, but I cannot for the life of me recall what it was, so I suspect it wasn't that compelling. I do remember that it only bore a vague resemblance to how I interpreted Mark's description of what the essence was supposed to be (note, not saying he described it wrong! Just that I interpreted his words in a way that did not match my spreadsheet). For example, like I said upthread, I expected emotion effects to be largely Spirit based, or perhaps Vital (since that controlled instincts), but they turned out to be pretty thin on the ground, and mostly in Arcane/Occult lists rather than Divine/Occult.

I really need to get around to making an updated spreadsheet for the CRB spell lists. But my new job keeps me occupied more than my last did, so I never have. And my computer bluescreened, so the one I made for the playtest no longer exists.


AnimatedPaper wrote:

Spirit is the one I keep tripping over, to be honest. I vaguely recall that it did have an actual unifying theme, but I cannot for the life of me recall what it was, so I suspect it wasn't that compelling. I do remember that it only bore a vague resemblance to how I interpreted Mark's description of what the essence was supposed to be (note, not saying he described it wrong! Just that I interpreted his words in a way that did not match my spreadsheet). For example, like I said upthread, I expected emotion effects to be largely Spirit based, or perhaps Vital (since that controlled instincts), but they turned out to be pretty thin on the ground, and mostly in Arcane/Occult lists rather than Divine/Occult.

I really need to get around to making an updated spreadsheet for the CRB spell lists. But my new job keeps me occupied more than my last did, so I never have. And my computer bluescreened, so the one I made for the playtest no longer exists.

What you're looking for is Force effects should fall primarily under spirit.

As it is, arcane got some of those effects for historical reasons. Magic Missile, for example, should be a Divine spell rather than an Arcane one if you were using the essences to determine everything. This really shows that they are using the essences as a suggestion rather than a rule.

Edit: I do think you're spot on about Spirit being misallocated on the lists. Divine should have more access to force and emotion effects and Arcane should have less. Necromancy shouldn't even touch the Arcane list going by the essences. This is a spot where the essences were a nice concept, but they needed more follow through if they were actually going to be useful.


Going strictly by the essences the concept of necromancy wizard would be more dead than it is now, Primal would get no mind affecting animal/plant targeting spells, and Divine would lack many spells that are honestly more material/mental. So I am glad that essences are not super strict and just a guideline.

As for force effects, its really hard to say their origin. As depending on things it may be either raw magic or a blend of the Ethereal and Astral planes (both planes associated with spirits).

So following just the tradicion and essence creates an area were a class might lack spells that would fit thematically.

**********

* P.S. I always saw emotions as a mind effect so it doesnt surprice me its part of the mind essence.


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I don't think it's ultimately really productive to try to assign essences exclusively to particular spells.

For one, the essences most associated with a school or tradition aren't exclusive. The text says things like "tends to" or "especially attuned to", not "divine casters can't manipulate Matter." Primal is more attuned to Matter and Life than other essences, but the book goes out of its way to avoid ever ascribing any exclusivity to that relationship.

For another, essences are described as, well, essence of reality. Magic is the act of manipulating that essence. That suggests to me that two spellcasters doing similar things along different traditions might be able to manipulate different essences in order to accomplish their goals.

Two posts up, Queaux argues that Magic Missile should be a Divine spell associated with the Spirit essence... but looking at myself I can't really figure out how to make that connection at all. I think this shows there's some pretty significant ambiguity, intentionally so, baked into the relationship between essences and other spells.

Generally I just think people have been fixating too much on trying to nail down essences and essence combinations. They're a tool, an explanation and provide some basic guiding principles, but I don't think they were ever intended to be the hard lines some people are trying to make them.

Grand Archive

Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Squiggit wrote:

I don't think it's ultimately really productive to try to assign essences exclusively to particular spells.

For one, the essences most associated with a school or tradition aren't exclusive. The text says things like "tends to" or "especially attuned to", not "divine casters can't manipulate Matter." Primal is more attuned to Matter and Life than other essences, but the book goes out of its way to avoid ever ascribing any exclusivity to that relationship.

For another, essences are described as, well, essence of reality. Magic is the act of manipulating that essence. That suggests to me that two spellcasters doing similar things along different traditions might be able to manipulate different essences in order to accomplish their goals.

Two posts up, Queaux argues that Magic Missile should be a Divine spell associated with the Spirit essence... but looking at myself I can't really figure out how to make that connection at all. I think this shows there's some pretty significant ambiguity, intentionally so, baked into the relationship between essences and other spells.

Generally I just think people have been fixating too much on trying to nail down essences and essence combinations. They're a tool, an explanation and provide some basic guiding principles, but I don't think they were ever intended to be the hard lines some people are trying to make them.

yeah. A good example could be necromancy.

A divine necromancer would use Life and Spirit essences to inject negative energy into a corpse to raise it as an undead, or disrupt the negative energies animating it to either control or destroy. It's the "normal way" to do it, so that's why the divine list have more spells to interact with undead.

Arcane casters use Matter and Mind... So they manipulate the material body left (like for zombies), or the echo of mind left behind (like for ghosts). As it interact mainly with what's left, it doesn't have as much hold on undeath as Divine. So less Necromancy spells. But they can still control them a bit.

That would explain a lich well in fact... I mean, the reason it's so complicated to attain lichdom. You have to force your way to undeath without the right tools. Like having to code directly in binary instead of using an high level language. Or writing on a paper sheet with a knife. You *can*... But it won't be as effective as with a pen. (also, fun fact... a Lich bind themselves to a Phylactery... A "material" object.)

On the opposite side, Golems and Animated objects are CLEARLY on the Arcane purview, because it's easy to create/manipulate them using Matter (what they are made of), and Mind (like our own AIs, they have artificial simple minds to control their bodies).
They just try to use these same techniques for undead, which is... much harder, because they have Life and Spirit essences interfering.
... In fact, that extra explanation is even better than the one I made before lol.

Grand Archive

Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
AnimatedPaper wrote:

Spirit is the one I keep tripping over, to be honest. I vaguely recall that it did have an actual unifying theme, but I cannot for the life of me recall what it was, so I suspect it wasn't that compelling. I do remember that it only bore a vague resemblance to how I interpreted Mark's description of what the essence was supposed to be (note, not saying he described it wrong! Just that I interpreted his words in a way that did not match my spreadsheet). For example, like I said upthread, I expected emotion effects to be largely Spirit based, or perhaps Vital (since that controlled instincts), but they turned out to be pretty thin on the ground, and mostly in Arcane/Occult lists rather than Divine/Occult.

I really need to get around to making an updated spreadsheet for the CRB spell lists. But my new job keeps me occupied more than my last did, so I never have. And my computer bluescreened, so the one I made for the playtest no longer exists.

Spirit is mainly governing the Alignment stuff.

That's why Primal have healing, but no real spell using alignment.

Example: Divine Lance would use one's Spirit essence alignment to disrupt the target (hurt them) by tearing through the target's Spirit essence. It only hurt those with opposite alignment because someone with the same alignment have the "waves" of their Spirit parallel to the caster. A neutral one doesn't have a Spirit consistent enough to be harmed (or harm) by any other Spirit. On the other side, the opposite alignments have waves perpendicular to each other. So they collide. Exactly the same way the polarized 3D movie glasses work!
This also make constructs immune to these, because they just don't "have" Spirit essence. The same way they can't be healed by the heal spell, because they don't have Life essence either.


Promethean Alchemist's Homunculus and Constructs with heart modification would like to have a word with you.

But in all seriousness, that is more or less. Except I did look at all at the weird wave interference thing, and just had it as the spell using spirit as a filter.

Grand Archive

Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Temperans wrote:

Promethean Alchemist's Homunculus and Constructs with heart modification would like to have a word with you.

But in all seriousness, that is more or less. Except I did look at all at the weird wave interference thing, and just had it as the spell using spirit as a filter.

... Yeah, "Filter" was exactly the word I was looking for when I was writing all this, but it eluded me for some reason lol.

So yeah, All that "wave interference" thing is basically how a filter works... Compatible alignment just goes through, while incompatible ones tear the filter appart. :P


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Queaux wrote:
What you're looking for is Force effects should fall primarily under spirit.

If you were curious, the justification for that is that Force is an astral plane effect, and Mind in addition to its other duties covers Astral plane magic. Which is also why occult wound up with the spell.

Edit: gotta say, I really enjoy this thread. The underpinnings of magic in a setting are interesting to me, and I like that Paizo dipped their toes into it, even if it was more of a guideline than the hard rules I would have preferred.

Liberty's Edge

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Spirit covers actual dealing with souls (most notably, Bind Soul is Spirit), as well as communicating with spiritual entities. It does also have some emotion effects (Overwhelming Presence is Spirit, for instance, as are Wail of the Banshee and Zealous Commitment), and all Alignment-based spells (Protection, Detect Alignment, Undetectable Alignment, etc.) are also Spirit-based. A lot of 'morale' buffs are also Spirit (most notably Heroism). A fair selection of divination magic of the more...obscure sort is also Spirit (Augury, Read Omens, and Talking Corpse for example). A few other interesting spirit-only spells include Spiritual Weapon, Silence, and Sanctuary.

I think that holds together fairly coherently, honestly. There's maybe not enough spells in it yet, but what it does seems fairly thematically consistent to me.

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