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By Skip Williams

Players and DM's often find it remarkably difficult to agree on exactly how particular spells function in the game. In the heat of battle, exactly what a spell can do, how and where it can be cast, and even whether a saving throw is allowed can prove dreadfully tricky to pin down. What seemed clear enough when casually reading the rulebooks in quiet solitude can seem maddenly vague when a valued player character's life hangs in the balance or when a particularly loathsome villain is about to go down to a well-deserved defeat.

When you're having difficulty figuring out a spell, just relax and consider what the spell's description actually says. This article presents a method for doing that.

In Part One, we'll examine a few key terms.

Some Key Terms

Here are a few terms used in both the game and this article to describe spells and their effects:

Aim or Aiming: The act of choosing exactly where a spell (or other magical effect) will emerge or take effect.

  • If the spell has a target entry, you aim the spell when you choose the target.
  • If the spell has an effect entry, you aim the spell when you decide where the effect will appear.
  • If the spell has an area entry you aim the spell when you choose the spell's point of origin or the location that the area will cover.

    Caster Level: Your level in the class that gives you access to the particular spell you're casting. In some cases, your caster level is less than your class level; if so, this is noted in the class description. For example, a paladin's caster level is one-half his paladin level. (A paladin of 3rd level or lower has no caster level at all.)

    If you're multiclassed, you could have different caster levels for the spells you have by virtue of your various classes. For example, a 4th-level paladin/5th-level sorcerer has a caster level of 2 for paladin spells and a caster level of 5 for sorcerer spells. If you've taken a prestige class, your levels in that class might stack with levels in another class to determine your caster level, or they might not depending on the prestige class. Otherwise, your levels in your various spell casting classes usually don't stack for purposes of determining your caster level.

    Line of Sight: An unobstructed, straight line between two locations such that a creature at one location can see whatever is at the other. In most cases, you need line of sight to whatever or wherever you aim a spell. See the glossary entry on Page 310 of the Player's Handbook for information on tracing line of sight.

    Line of Effect: A straight, unblocked line between two locations on the battlefield. Line of effect is just like line of sight, except that restrictions on vision don't apply.
    On the other hand, some things that you can see through can block line of effect, such as a wall of force or an antimagic field. Though the rules don't specifically say so, you always have line of effect to yourself.
    In general, it takes a solid object to block line of effect (but immaterial things, such as antimagic fields can, too, as noted above). A solid object with a hole it at least 1 foot square doesn't block line of effect.

    Creatures usually do not block line of effect, except for very odd creatures, such as gelatinous cubes, that can completely fill a space.

    In a few cases, line of effect can turn corners (see Part Five).

    Point of Origin: The point in space from which a spell's effects burst, emanate, or spread. A spell's area cannot extend to any location if line of effect from the spell's point of origin is blocked (but see Part Five).

    Recipient: This is not a game term, but it is used in this article to indicate the creature, object, area, or point in space where a spell's effects are felt. If a spell is aimed at a specific creature, for example, that creature is the recipient. A spell that covers an area might have several recipients.

    PART II

    Luckily for the harried DM and the eager player, spell descriptions are arranged to provide lots of useful information quickly.

    Anatomy of a Spell Description

    A basic spell description comes in two parts. The first part is a single column of information roughly 10 lines long (sometimes a little more, sometimes a lot less) that begins with the spell's name. This is what we'll call the "header" in this article. The header is packed with information about the spell, provided that you know how to read it. It's helpful to think of a spell's header as its game statistics, much like the statistics block at the beginning of a monster's entry.

    The second part of a spell description consists of one or more paragraphs of text that explain what the spell is all about and also adds certain details that aren't fully explained in the header.

    The Spell Header

    The header contains most of the vital statistics for the spell. The information presented in the header is the foundation of the spell, and it takes precedence over anything you find in the explanatory text below it. If you find (or think you've found) something in the text that contradicts the header, use the information in the header.

    All spell headers are arranged in the same general manner, and the elements in a spell header are explained in great detail in Chapter 10 in the Player's Handbook, pages 172-177. That's a great deal of material, so here's an overview, line by line.

    Spell Name

    This first entry in the header shows the name by which the spell is generally known. You may encounter the spell under a different name, but this is rare unless your DM has decided to rename spells to add some flavor to the campaign.

    Spell School

    Magic in the D&D game is divided into eight schools of magic, and the second entry in the header shows the school. Pages 172-174 in the Player's Handbook discuss spell schools. A spell's school usually doesn't affect play much, though if you encounter a magical effect when it's operating, you can use a detect magic effect (and a Spellcraft skill check) to determine the school of magic involved. That, in turn, may allow you to surmise what the magic is doing, at least in broad terms. The Spell Focus feat also depends on a spell school, as does the wizard's school specialization option.

    Subschool: Sometimes a second entry in a spell header contains a parenthetical entry that shows a spell's subschool. A subschool represents a portion of the school that works in a certain way. A spell's subschool often indicates how the spell functions in play, so it's worth paying attention to a subschool entry when you see it. Referring to the notes on subschools on pages 172-174 of the Player's Handbook often can settle questions about how a spell works. Here's a quick overview of schools and subschools. This overview covers only the highlights.

    • Abjuration: Protective spells that block or banish things or that negate other magic. This school has no subschools.

    • Conjuration: Spells that bring other things into being, move things around, or provide healing. As a general rule, when you conjure something, you cannot make it appear in thin air or inside another object or creature. This means you cannot aim the spell so that what you conjure falls and crushes or damages what's below it.
    This school has five subschools:

    Calling: These spells bring creatures from some place in the campaign to the caster or to the place where the caster aims the spell. By definition, a calling spell has an instantaneous duration, and that means it cannot be dispelled (though some abjurations might banish the called creature back where it came). In general, any effects that a called creature produces remain behind and function for their usual duration even after the spell ends or the called creature leaves, or both. A calling is a two-way trip; the creature called has a one-time ability to return from whence it came.

    Creation: These spells make things on the spot. Only creation spells with durations longer than instantaneous can be dispelled.

    Healing: These spells restore lost hit points to the living or cure other afflictions.

    Summoning: Summonings are similar to calling spells. A summoning can bring either creatures or objects, depending on the spell. Unlike a calling, a summoning usually has a short duration and can be dispelled. A summoned creature cannot use any summoning abilities of its own while the summoning lasts, and it cannot use any spell that has an XP component. It also cannot use any spell-like ability that would have an XP component if it were a spell. When a summoning spell ends (because the spell's duration expires, because the creature is killed, or because the spell has been dispelled), any magical effects that a summoned creature has produced immediately expire. Like a calling, a summoning is a two-way trip for a creature.

    Teleportation: These spells send the caster or a subject the caster designates from the caster's location (or place where the caster aims the spell) to some other place of the caster's choosing. The trip usually is one-way and it's instantaneous, so it cannot be dispelled. A teleportation spell involves travel trough the Astral Plane. If access to the Astral Plane is blocked, teleportation spells don't work.

    • Divination: Spells that provide some kind of information. Divination has one subschool (but not all divinations are part of that subschool).
    Scrying: A scrying spell places a magical sensor in some location of the caster's choosing. Although the descriptive text for this subschool doesn't mention it, you usually do not need line of effect to a location to aim a sensor or to receive information from it after you cast the spell.
    The sensor from a scrying spell usually has the same sensory capabilities that the caster has, though the spell's description may limit those; for example, the clairaudience/clairvoyance spell allows either sight or hearing (caster's choice). When a scrying spell allows the use of a particular sense, the sensor has at least as much sensory ability as the caster has. If the caster has an ability such as darkvision (whether from a special quality or a spell), the sensor has it, too. Effects that emanate from the caster (such as the detect magic spell) don't extend through the sensor, however. The sensor also acts as a separate sensory organ for the caster, and the spell works as described even when the caster has some impairment such as blindness or deafness; for example, if you're blinded, you can still "see" with a clairaudience/clairvoyance spell. In such cases, the spell's sensory ability is equal to the human norm unless the spell's descriptive text specifies a greater ability.
    • Enchantment: Fantasy literature often uses the term "enchantment" as a catchall for any magical effect. In the D&D game, however, enchantment spells affect the mind, and spells from this school always have the mind-affecting descriptor (see below). Objects, constructs, undead, plants, and mindless creatures in the D&D game can never be enchanted, either because they have no minds to affect or because they are immune to mind-affecting things. The enchantment school has two subschools.
    Charm: These spells make their recipients think well of the caster. A charm makes a subject friendly, but it doesn't allow the caster to control the subject like a marionette.

    Compulsion: These spells force the subject to take a certain action or act in a certain general way. Many compulsions specify the kind of action the subject must take. The animal trance spell, for example, makes animals and magical beasts do nothing but watch the caster. Other compulsions allow the caster to specify some action or activity, but nothing more (suggestion, for example). The most powerful compulsions turn the subject into an automaton, or nearly so (the various dominate spells, for example).

    • Evocation: Spells that manipulate energy (or sometimes matter) usually to produce a destructive effect. There are no subschools.

    • Illusion: Spells that deceive the senses or the mind. There are five subschools.
    Figment: Spells that create false sensations. A figment cannot make something seem to be something else. Most figments cannot duplicate intelligible speech; when they can the spell description will specifically say so.
    A figment is unreal and cannot produce real effects; it can't deal damage, support weight, provide nutrition, or act as a barrier (except to sight if the figment is visible, as most are). If you create the image of a creature with a figment spell, you usually can make it move around, but only within the spell's area, which usually isn't mobile.

    Glamer: Spells that make the recipient look, feel, taste, smell, or sound like something else, or even seem to disappear. Beware of attempts to use figments as glamers and vice versa. For example, you can use a figment to create an apple tree, but you can't use a figment to make your buddy look like an apple tree.

    Pattern: A visible magical image, something like a figment, except that the image has some affect on viewers' minds. All patterns have the mind-affecting descriptor. Patterns have no effects on creatures that cannot see.

    Phantasm: Spells that create mental images. Usually, only the caster and the spell's recipient (or recipients) can perceive the image. All phantasms have the mind-affecting descriptor.

    Shadow: A spell that creates something that is partially real, but made mostly from extradimensional energies the caster brings together with the spell. Shadows are similar to figments, but they can have real effects because they're partially real themselves.

    • Necromancy: Spells that involve life force, unlife, or death. There are no subschools.

      Transmutation: Spells that change the properties of some creature, thing, or condition fall into the school of transmutation. There are no subschools.

    Spell Descriptors

    Sometimes a second entry in a spell header contains information enclosed in brackets. This is the spell's descriptor. Some spells have no descriptors, and some spells have several.

    A descriptor is something like a subschool, except that spells from different schools can have the same descriptor or descriptors. A spell's descriptor can have a big impact on play, but only because the descriptor helps determine how the spell interacts with other spells or with a creature's special abilities. You won't find a long list of definitions for descriptors in the game because they don't have much meaning by themselves. Here's a brief overview, however:

    • Acid: Acid is a type of energy in the D&D game, and most spells with this descriptor deal acid damage. As you'd expect, acid immunity makes the spell's recipient immune to acid damage from the spell. Acid resistance reduces acid damage from the spell.

      Air: Air is one of the four basic elements in the D&D game. Air spells usually move air around or allow some kind of movement through the air. The air descriptor doesn't have much impact on play; creatures of the air subtype, for example, don't have immunity to air spells (though that wouldn't be a bad house rule). If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where air spells are somehow enhanced or diminished, however.

    • Chaotic: Chaos is one of the four basic alignments in the D&D game. Chaotic spells are usually less effective (or ineffective) against creatures with chaotic alignments or with the chaos subtype. They usually have enhanced effects against creatures with lawful alignments or with the lawful subtype. If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where chaos spells are somehow enhanced or diminished.
    Sometimes a spell may have the chaotic descriptor and other times it may not. Many summoning spells, for example, gain the chaotic descriptor if they're used to summon chaotic creatures.

    A cleric cannot cast a spell with the chaotic descriptor if the cleric's alignment is lawful or if the cleric is dedicated to a lawful deity.

    • Cold: Cold is a type of energy in the D&D game, and most spells with this descriptor deal cold damage. As you'd expect, cold immunity makes the spell's recipient immune to cold damage from the spell. Cold resistance reduces cold damage from the spell. Creatures with vulnerability to cold take 50% more cold damage than normal.

    • Darkness: These spells create areas of dim light that conceal things within the areas they cover. In general, darkness spells negate the effects of light spells of equal or lower level and vice versa.

    • Death: Spells that produce instant death in living targets. Targets that aren't alive, such as undead and constructs, can't be affected by death spells. Spells such as death ward provide protection against death spells.

    • Earth: Earth is one of the four basic elements in the D&D game. Earth spells usually move or manipulate dirt, stone and similar materials, or allow some kind of movement through the earth. The earth descriptor doesn't have much impact on play; creatures with the earth subtype, for example, don't have immunity to earth spells (though that wouldn't be a bad house rule). If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where earth spells are somehow enhanced or diminished, however.

    • Electricity: Electricity is a type of energy in the D&D game, and most spells with this descriptor deal electricity damage. As you'd expect, electricity immunity makes the spell's recipient immune to electricity damage from the spell. Electricity resistance reduces electricity damage from the spell.

    • Evil: Evil is one of the four basic alignments in the D&D game. Evil spells are usually less effective (or ineffective) against creatures with evil alignments or with the evil subtype. They usually have enhanced effects against creatures with good alignments or with the good subtype. If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where evil spells are somehow enhanced or diminished.
    Sometimes a spell may have the evil descriptor and other times it may not. Many summoning spells, for example, gain the evil descriptor if they're used to summon evil creatures.

    A cleric cannot cast a spell with the evil descriptor if the cleric's alignment is good or if the cleric is dedicated to a good deity.

    • Fear: These spells usually impose one of several conditions of fear on the recipient: shaken, frightened, or panicked. All spells with the fear descriptor also have the mind-affecting descriptor.

    • Fire: Fire is a type of energy in the D&D game, and it also is one of the four basic elements as well. Most spells with this descriptor deal fire damage. As you'd expect, fire immunity makes the spell's recipient immune to fire damage from the spell. Fire resistance reduces fire damage from the spell. Creatures with vulnerability to fire take 50% more fire damage than normal. If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where fire spells are somehow enhanced or diminished.

    • Force: These spells produce or manipulate a kind of magical force whose exact nature isn't detailed anywhere in the rules. Force effects that deal damage can harm incorporeal creatures without the usual miss chance. Force spells cast on the Material Plane can be aimed at, and can harm, creatures on the Ethereal Plane. Force barriers block incorporeal, astral, and ethereal creatures.

    • Good: Good is one of the four basic alignments in the D&D game. Good spells are usually less effective (or ineffective) against creatures with good alignments or with the good subtype. They usually have enhanced effects against creatures with evil alignments or with the evil subtype. If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where good spells are somehow enhanced or diminished.
    Sometimes a spell may have the good descriptor and other times it may not. Many summoning spells, for example, gain the good descriptor if they're used to summon good creatures.

    A cleric cannot cast a spell with the good descriptor if the cleric's alignment is evil or if the cleric is dedicated to an evil deity.

    • Language-Dependent: These spells don't function unless the caster speaks to the recipient in a language that the recipient understands. You can use some magical means, such as the tongues spell, to provide the necessary means of communication. Anything that keeps the recipient from comprehending the caster's speech foils the spell, such as a silence spell or the recipient's deafness. Casters can use some means of nonverbal "speech" (such as a helm of telepathy) to overcome silence or deafness.

      Many language-dependent spells also are mind-affecting spells.

    • Lawful: Lawful is one of the four basic alignments in the D&D game. Lawful spells are usually less effective (or ineffective) against creatures with lawful alignments or with the lawful subtype. They usually have enhanced effects against creatures with chaotic alignments or with the chaotic subtype. If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where lawful spells are somehow enhanced or diminished.
    Sometimes a spell may have the lawful descriptor and other times it may not. Many summoning spells, for example, gain the lawful descriptor if they're used to summon lawful creatures.

    A cleric cannot cast a spell with the lawful descriptor if the cleric's alignment is chaotic or if the cleric is dedicated to a chaotic deity.

    • Light: These spells create illumination. In general, light spells negate the effects of darkness spells of equal or lower level and vice versa.

    • Mind-Affecting: These spells shape or interfere with the subject's thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. In the latter case, the subject's senses aren't affected, but the subject's mental responses to her senses are changed.

    • Sonic: Sonic is a type of energy in the D&D game, and most spells with this descriptor deal sonic damage. As you'd expect, sonic immunity makes the spell's recipient immune to sonic damage from the spell. Sonic resistance reduces sonic damage from the spell.
    The silence spell description says that the spell provides protection against sonic effects. For all practical purposes, this means that a silence spell blocks line of effect for a sonic spell. The sonic spell's area cannot extend into the area that a silence spell's emanation fills, and neither can a sonic spell be cast through a silence spell's emanation to affect something on the other side.
    • Water: Water is one of the four basic elements in the D&D game. Water spells usually move or manipulate liquid water, ice or similar materials, or allow some kind of movement through the water. The water descriptor doesn't have much impact on play; creatures of the water subtype, for example, don't have immunity to water spells (though that wouldn't be a bad house rule). If your party goes plane hopping, you might find yourself in a place where water spells are somehow enhanced or diminished, however.

    PART III

    We took a quick tour of spell schools, subschools, and descriptors. Now, we move on to spell levels and components.

    Level

    The third entry in a spell header shows the spell's level, which rates the spell's power relative to other spells. A spell's level can vary depending on who's casting the spell, if so, that is shown here. For example, dominate person is a 4th-level spell for bard, but a 5th-level spell for a sorcerer or wizard.

    When an interaction between two spells depends on the spell's levels, use whatever level the caster is using. For example, globe of invulnerability excludes spell effects of 4th level or lower. The globe would exclude a dominate person spell from a bard, but not from a sorcerer or wizard.

    If you don't know the spell's level, you usually can figure it out. For example, spell-like abilities usually use a spell's sorcerer/wizard spell levels (see page 315 in the Monster Manual, or Rules of the Game: All About Spell-like Abilities, Part Three). If a spell comes from a magical device, you can infer the spell level from the item's market price, as noted in Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. Failing that, the methods you use for determining a spell-like ability's level also work for a magic item.

    Components

    The fourth entry in a spell header shows the components that the spell requires. Most of the time, a spell's components do not affect play very much. Occasionally, however, they can become critical.

    Here's an overview.

    • Verbal (V): You must be able to speak in a strong voice to complete a verbal component. If you're gagged, you can't complete a verbal component. If a foe grapples you and pins you, you cannot speak (and thus cannot complete a verbal component) unless your foe allows you to speak.
    Silence spells keep you from using verbal components.

    If you've been deafened, any spell you cast has a 20% failure chance if it has a verbal component. If you already have a failure chance from armor or a shield, you must check each failure chance separately.

    • Somatic (S): You must have at least one hand free to complete a somatic component. The rules don't go into any detail about when you have a hand "free," but here are some general guidelines.
    Your hand is free when you aren't carrying a weapon, a piece of equipment, or (usually) a shield. You can strap a buckler to your arm and use your hand to wield a weapon (albeit at a penalty), so there's no reason you couldn't use your buckler hand for a somatic component. The buckler might interfere a little bit, but that's what the arcane spell failure chance for the buckler is for. You also can strap a light shield to your forearm and still carry items in that hand, but you can't use the hand for anything else (such as wielding a weapon), so there's no good reason you should be able to use that hand to complete a somatic component. Since manipulating a material component (including a focus) is part of casting the spell, it's best to consider the hand that holds the material component or focus as "free" for purposes of completing a somatic component.

    You cannot cast a spell with a somatic component if you're grappling (either when you're the attacker in the grapple or the defender), when you're pinned, or when you're immobilized in some way (such as when you're tied up).

    • Material (M): Although the rules don't mention it, common sense dictates that you must have a hand free to manipulate a material component for a spell (see the notes on somatic components, above).
    When you're grappling, you can try to cast a spell with a material component (but not with a somatic component) provided you have the material component in your hand when you begin the spell. If you don't have the material component in hand, you must first use a full-round action to get it. Since you used a full-round action to retrieve the component, you can't cast the spell until your next turn. You can't cast a spell with a material component if you're pinned.

    Most material components have a negligible cost and they're assumed to be part of your spell component pouch. If you lose that pouch you're pretty much out of luck for casting spells with material components unless you can talk your DM into letting you forage for them or shop for them separately.

    Here's an unofficial rule for foraging: Make a Survival check (DC 10) in much the same manner you'd forage for supplies (see the Survival skill description). On a successful check you find one component. If your check result exceeds 10, you find one additional component for every 2 points your check result exceeds 10. If you have 5 or more ranks of Spellcraft or Knowledge (arcana), you get a +2 bonus on the check (or +4 if you have 5 or more ranks in each skill). You can obtain spell components of only negligible cost by foraging.

    If you are in some locale where you can shop for spell components, you probably can buy a new spell component pouch. If that's not possible, you can shop for components using the same method described above, but a Gather Information check makes more sense than a Survival check.

    Some material components are valuable enough to have a cost listed in the spell description. Such material components are never included in a spell component pouch, and you must buy them separately (though there is no reason why you could not store them in a spell component pouch after you've bought them).

    No matter what a material component costs, you use it up when you cast a spell with it. The component is expended even if the spell fails for some reason (such as being disrupted while casting, missing a spell failure chance, or whatever).

    A spell component pouch effectively has an unlimited supply of material components for your own spells (but only material components with negligible cost). In effect, you are assumed to refill your pouch just by poking around in your spare time. When you use a material component that has a cash value, you'll need to buy a replacement before you can cast the spell again.

    Although it's not mentioned in the rules, two or more spellcasters can share a spell component pouch. As an unofficial rule of thumb, you can assume that a character's pouch holds enough of any particular material component each day to cast that spell twice as many times as the caster can cast spells of that level. For example, a 1st-level wizard with an Intelligence score of 15 has a pouch that contains enough material components to cast any particular 1st-level spell four times a day. If the character shares his spell component pouch, he could easily run out of components for the day. Keep in mind that this is an off-the-cuff rule to cover a fairly unlikely situation. It's not intended as a way for stingy PCs to wiggle out of paying a measly 5 gp for a spell component pouch. DMs should free to adjust it as necessary to suit their campaigns.

    • Focus (F): For all intents and purposes, a focus is merely a material component that isn't consumed when you cast the spell. Everything in the section on material components also applies to focuses (except the part about them being consumed), with the following exceptions:

      If you're forced to forage for a focus with a negligible cost, the DC to find one is 15, and you can locate an additional focus with a negligible cost for every 5 points by which your check exceeds 15.

      A spell component pouch typically contains one focus with a negligible cost for each spell that you know that also requires such a focus.

    • Divine Focus (DF): This is simply a focus that has some spiritual significance for you. Usually it's your holy symbol. Divine focuses aren't included in spell component pouches.
    In some cases, the arcane version of a spell will have a material component or a focus and the divine version will have a divine focus. In that case, the two differing components are listed and separated by a slash; for example M/DF. See page 173 in the Player's Handbook for details.
    • XP Cost (XP): When you cast a spell with an XP cost, you pay that cost when you cast the spell, even if the spell fails for some reason, and your experience total is immediately reduced. According to the rules, you can never spend so much experience that you lose a level -- though you can delay gaining a level and instead keep your experience points available for spellcasting (or item creation). If you do so, you always can change your mind. That is, you can gain a new level any time you have enough experience to do so, even after delaying awhile. For example, suppose you're a 9th-level cleric, which gives you access to the commune spell, which has an XP cost of 100 XP. Your current XP total is 45,052. You have enough experience to become a 10th-level character, but if you do you won't be able to cast your commune spell because doing so would reduce your experience total to 44,952 and you'd drop back to 9th level. You can choose to delay becoming a 10th-level character until your experience total is 45,100 gp or more. Once you pass that milestone, you can add a character level. Once you make the decision to add the level, however, you're bound to the rule preventing you from spending so much XP that you lose a level.

    PART IV

    It's tough to use a spell when you don't know how long it takes to cast or how far away you can aim the spell. We'll consider casting times and ranges for spells.

    Casting Time

    The fifth entry in a spell header shows the spell's casting time, as follows:

    • 1 standard action: This is the most common casting time and it means exactly what it says. You use a standard action (specifically the cast a spell action) to cast the spell. The spell takes effect during your turn, when you complete the action.

    • 1 round: Spells with casting times this long aren't completed in the same round they're cast. You must use a full-round action to cast the spell, but the spell does not take affect until just before your turn on the following round. Remember that this is not the same as casting a spell as a full-round action (as bards and sorcerers must do when casting spells altered with metamagic). Casting a full-round action spell works the same way as any full-round action -- you cast the spell and it takes effect during your turn in the current turn. A 1-round spell takes longer, as explained above.

    • 2 rounds or more: These spells work pretty much like spells with 1-round casting times, except that you use a full-round action during each round of the casting time. The spell takes effect just before your turn on the round following the last full-round action you used to cast the spell.

    • 1 free action: A fairly rare casting time. When you cast a spell with a casting time this short, you still can use a standard or full-round action during your turn to cast another spell. You cannot, however, cast another spell with a casting time of 1 free action. Casting a spell as a free action doesn't provoke an attack of opportunity. Normally, you can use a free action only during your own turn, but some spells with casting times of 1 free action can be cast anytime (feather fall, for example). In this case, casting the spell during someone else's turn doesn't count as the one spell you can cast as a free action during your next turn.
    Range

    The next entry in a spell header is the range, which is literally the maximum possible distance there can be between you and any recipient of the spell. You won't have too many opportunities to cast spells at their maximum possible ranges, but if you should do so, an odd thing might occur. None of the spell's effects can extend beyond the spell's range. For example, if you aim a fireball, which normally fills a 20-foot radius, so that its point of origin lies exactly at the spell's maximum range, you'll lose about half the spell's usual effect, because the blast cannot spread beyond the spell's maximum range.

    This rule might seem a little weird, but it has the virtue of making it very easy to decide if any particular recipient can be affected by your spell -- if the distance between you and the recipient is greater than the spell's range, the spell simply cannot reach that recipient.

    When Range Doesn't Apply: When a spell takes effect on a creature or object, the spell keeps working on that creature or object even if it later moves out of range. This is an important exception to the general rule that a spell's effects can't extend beyond its range. Some spells, however, only affect things so long as they remain in the area the spell covers (see Part Six).

    Range Categories: Spell ranges fall into several basic categories, which are largely self-explanatory. Things can get a little tricky when you consider the spell's target, effect, or area (see the next section), so here's a brief overview:

    • Personal: The spell affects only you (though you might be able to share the spell with a familiar, animal companion, or other creature with the share spells ability).

    • Touch: The spell takes affect on something you touch. To deliver the spell, you must touch the recipient yourself. You can touch things only within your natural reach, though you often can move around for quite awhile before trying to touch anything.

    • Close: The spell can reach 25 feet, plus an extra 5 feet per two caster levels. These spells are useful for tactical combat at fairly short distances, such as most dungeon combats.

    • Medium: The spell can reach 100 feet, plus an extra 10 feet per caster level. These spells are useful for combat at fairly long distances, such as most wilderness combats.

    • Long: The spell can reach 400 feet, plus an extra 40 feet per caster level. These spells are useful for combat at extreme distances.

    • Unlimited: The spell can reach anywhere on the plane where you cast the spell. Often, spells with this range don't require line of sight or line of effect to the place where you aim them.

    • Ranges in Feet: A few spells have ranges listed in feet rather than a standard range category.

    PART V

    You must aim a spell somewhere before it can affect anything.

    Target or Targets, Effect, or Area

    The next entry in the spell header explains how you aim the spell, as follows:

    • Target or Targets: You select one or more recipients to receive the spell. All your targets must be in range and you must have line of effect to them. If you don't have line of sight to a recipient, you still can select it as a target if you can touch it.
    Often, the entry will limit the kinds of targets you can select. For example, living creatures, objects, or willing creatures. A creature is anything that has both a Wisdom and a Charisma score. A living creature also has a Constitution score.

    An object is anything that lacks a Wisdom and a Charisma score, even if it is actually alive. (A rose bush, for example, is alive, but it's an object insofar as the D&D rules are concerned.)

    A willing creature must declare itself willing, which it can do anytime, even during someone else's turn or when flat-footed. Declaring oneself willing is not an action. Likewise, you can declare yourself unwilling anytime. Unconscious creatures are automatically willing. Helpless, but conscious creatures (such as paralyzed creatures) still can declare themselves willing or unwilling.

    Sometimes, you can choose targets only within some sort of limited area. The rules usually use one of two different kinds of wording to indicate that. For example, the targets entry for the animal growth spell is as follows: "Up to one animal (Gargantuan or smaller) per two levels, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart." And the targets entry for the animal shapes spell is as follows: "Up to one willing creature per level, all within 30 ft. of each other." Usually, when the rules say things in different ways, they mean different things, but not in this case. All the targets you choose must be with the specified distance of all the other targets, and any target that is more than the specified distance from even one other target can't be selected as a target. To put it another way, imagine a sphere with a diameter (not radius) equal to the specified distance. All the targets you choose must fit within that sphere.

    When the targets entry specifies a number of targets based on level (as both the previous examples do), that refers to your caster level (see Part One).

    • Effect: The spell produces something by either creating it on the spot or by summoning it from somewhere else. When an effect spell summons a creature, the spell's range determines how far away from you the creature can appear. Once it appears, however, the creature is free to move around as it likes or as you direct; the spell range no longer limits it. The same goes for summoned objects; though most objects can't move around on their own, someone could hurl the object or carry it off.
    Wall Spells: Spells such as wall of fire are effect spells that create barriers. Often, the effect entry for such a spell does not mention how thick the barrier is (for example, blade barrier, wall of fire, and wall of force). In these cases, the wall is basically two-dimensional, with only a negligible thickness. If such a spell deals damage (or has some other effect), the spell deals damage to anything that passes through it or otherwise breaks the plane of the barrier. In the case of a wall of force, nothing can break the plane (save for a few magical effects specified in the spell description).
    • Area: The spell (usually) fills some volume of space as specified in the entry. As noted earlier, a spell's area cannot extend beyond the spell's range. Most spells have immobile areas, so you cannot move after casting the spell and make the area extend farther or shift around. (If a spell's effects are mobile, it usually will have an effect entry instead of an area entry.) As noted in Part Two, most figment spells have fixed areas. The images you create as part of a figment can move around, but only within the spell's area.
    When you aim an area spell, you must choose a point of origin (see Part One) for the spell. You must have line of effect to the point of origin you choose. If you cannot see the point of origin, you must specify the point of origin in some meaningful way. The best way to do so is select a distance and a direction from yourself or from another point of reference that you can see or touch (or that your DM agrees is well known to you). The point of origin for any area spell always must be an intersection of squares on the grid you use to regulate combat. This rule greatly simplifies the task of deciding exactly where the area extends. Once you choose the point of origin, the spell's area extends from there. The most common area shapes include the following:

    Burst or Emanation: The area extends from the point of origin in a sphere whose radius is specified in the entry (though some bursts are cone-shaped areas). Anything that blocks line of effect from the point of origin also blocks the burst or emanation.

    If a burst or emanation spell is aimed into a location that's too small to hold the entire sphere (or cone), the spell still works, but its area will be only as large as the space allows.

    A caster can aim a burst or emanation spell at a location where only part of its area is blocked. In this case, the unblocked portion of the spell's area will be its normal size, and the blocked portion extends only as far as the obstacle that blocks line of effect from the spell's point of origin.

    Spread: A spread is similar to a burst, except that it can turn corners. When line of effect from the point of origin is blocked, just go around the obstacle, tracing a path that's as long as the spread's radius.

    The rules don't tell you what to do when whatever blocks the spread's line of effect isn't a solid object (for example, an antimagic field). In this case, just the treat the antimagic field like a solid obstacle. A spell with a spread area and the sonic descriptor will spread around a silence spell.

    Cone: A cone is a quarter circle that extends from the caster's space for the distance stated in the entry. If the caster's space fills only one square, the cone can start at any corner of the space (that corner is the spell's point of origin). The rules are silent about what to do when the caster's space fills more than one square. I recommend you pick any grid intersection on the outer edge of the space as the point of origin for the spell. Alternatively, you can require the caster to choose a corner of his space as the point of origin.

    Anything that blocks line of effect from the point of origin blocks the cone, and a cone can be only partly blocked, as noted above.

    Cylinder: A cylindrical area is something like a spread. The area extends from the point of origin in a horizontal circle, and then extends downward. The rules say a cylinder ignores obstructions in its area, which isn't too helpful. In effect, this means that line of effect for a cylinder isn't blocked so long as you can trace an unbroken line from the point of origin without leaving the confines of the cylinder. (You still need line of effect from you to spell's point of origin, however.)

    Line: A line's point of origin is one corner of the caster's space. (If the caster's space fills more than one square, you can use the optional rule suggested for cones to select the point of origin.) The line extends from the point of origin in any direction the caster chooses and reaches as far as the spell's range (or until its line of effect is blocked). The rules regarding lines are somewhat muddled; however, a line affects anything in a square that the line passes though or touches. So, if you send a line straight down a gridline, it will affect the squares to either side of the line. Some people like to limit a line's effects to a width of 5 feet. If so, the caster chooses which side of the line gets affected when a line passes between two squares. (Choose a side when you aim the spell, and once you choose, you have to stick with that side.)

    If you have to deal with a line aimed into the air, it's easiest to assume that a line affects anything in a 5-foot cube that the line passes through or touches.

    Creatures or Objects: These spells work like targeted spells. They affect their subjects directly rather than filling a volume of space, but all the subjects must fit into the area specified in the entry.

    Cubes: These areas specify a number of cubes. Usually the caster can arrange the cubes any way she likes, and this is indicated by (S) after the entry. The rules are silent on exactly how you can arrange the cubes. At the minimum, however, the cubes all must touch each other (that is share a corner, edge, or side with at least one other cube). No cube can extend farther from you than the spell's range, and you must be able to trace line of effect from at least one point in a cube back to the spell's point of origin through the other cubes in the area. The rules say a cube can't have a dimension smaller than 10 feet. Technically, that means you can't cast a spell with a cubical area in any location with a dimension smaller than 10 feet. If that seems harsh to you (it does to me), assume that a cube must have a dimension of at least 10 feet if space allows. The absolute minimum dimension for a cube in a restricted space is 1 foot -- barriers with openings smaller than that block line of effect, as noted in Part One.

    PART VI

    Now, we'll take a look at the final three entries in a spell header.

    Duration

    The next entry in the spell header tells you how long the spell's effects last. In general, a spell's duration begins at the time in the round when you finish the spell. Spell duration is discussed in detail on page 176 of the Player's Handbook. This section contains some additional notes on a few kinds of durations.

    Instantaneous: A spell with an instantaneous duration lasts only for the instant that the spell is completed, though its effects can last a long time. For example, a fireball spell is an instantaneous spell, but the damage it deals lasts until something heals or repairs it. Wall of stone also is an instantaneous spell. The stone it creates appears in an instant, and after that a mass of nonmagical rock remains behind.

    Because there's no magic operating after the spell takes effect, you can't dispel a spell with an instantaneous duration. The spell's effects also don't have a magical aura that you can find with detect magic spell (except for a lingering aura that persists for a very short time; see the detect magic spell description).

    Recipients, Effects, and Areas: If the spell affects recipients directly, the results of the spell travel with the subjects for the spell's duration. A spell affects recipients directly when the spell has a target or targets entry or when the spell affects creatures or objects within an area rather than affecting the whole area (see the notes in the section on areas).

    When a spell produces an effect, the effect lasts for the duration unless the effect is somehow destroyed first.

    If the spell affects an area then the spell functions in that area for its duration. Recipients become subject to the spell when they enter the area and are no longer subject to it when they leave the area.

    Touch Spells: The duration for a touch spell doesn't begin until the caster touches a subject and delivers the spell to a recipient. Attempting to touch a recipient requires a melee touch attack and that is part of the action used to cast the spell during the round when the spell is completed. If the recipient is willing to be touched, it's usually best to just assume the caster touches the recipient.

    If the caster does not touch a recipient then (either because she doesn't try to or the melee touch attack fails), she must use an action (usually the attack or full attack action) to touch a recipient during a later round. This is called "holding the charge." A caster holding a charge is considered armed and can use an attack of opportunity to make a melee touch attack and deliver the spell.

    Whenever the caster touches anything, the held charge is discharged, even if what the caster touches isn't a valid target for the spell (in that case, the spell is wasted). The charge also is lost (and wasted) if the caster casts another spell. Otherwise, a caster can hold a charge indefinitely. DMs should feel free to set some reasonable limit to how long a character can hold a charge, perhaps 1 hour or until the caster has to go to sleep (or trance in the case of elves).

    A very few touch spells (water breathing, for example) can be partially discharged. If so, this will be mentioned in the spell's target entry and its descriptive text, or both.

    As a full-round action you can touch up to six friends willing creatures, object that willing creatures hold, or objects just lying round by themselves), provided that all the recipients are within the caster's reach. (The caster can extend her reach a little by taking a 5-foot step during the process.) To use this option, you must first cast the spell and hold the charge. Because the recipients are willing, no melee touch attack is required. You must decide how to distribute the spell's effect before touching anything.

    Saving Throw

    The second to last entry in the spell header tells you whether the spell's recipient or recipients are allowed saving throws against the spell's effects. This is an important piece of information because most descriptive text for spells is written with the assumption that the recipient's saving throw (if one is allowed) fails. For example, the text for charm person says the spell makes a humanoid regard you as an ally. It doesn't bother to mention the possibility of a successful saving throw because you are assumed to read the spell header and know that a saving throw is allowed (in this case Will negates, see below).

    When a spell allows a saving throw, the entry begins with the kind of saving throw the recipient can attempt (Reflex, Fortitude, or Will). Types of saving throw entries include the following:

    Negates: The spell has no effect on a recipient who makes a successful saving throw.

    If the spell has no obvious physical effects (and most spells that allow saves to negate don't), a recipient that makes a successful saving throw still feels an obviously hostile force or tingle. If the spell has a target or targets entry, the caster knows that the spell has failed.

    A recipient who makes a successful saving throw doesn't know where the spell came from (though that might be obvious if the caster is visible) or what the spell was. If the spell has a target or targets entry, however, a recipient that makes a successful saving throw can attempt a Spellcraft check (DC 25 plus the spell level) to determine what the spell was. This does not take an action, and the recipient cannot retry the check if it fails.

    Charm person is a good example of this kind of spell.

    Partial: The spell causes an effect on its subject. A successful saving throw means that some lesser effect occurs. The descriptive text in the spell covers both the full and partial effect.

    Entangle is a good example of this kind of spell.

    Half: The spell deals damage, and a successful saving throw halves the damage of the recipient (round down). If the save allowed is a Reflex save, a recipient with the evasion class feature takes no damage on a successful saving throw. If the save allowed is a Reflex save, a recipient with the improved evasion class feature takes half damage even on a failed save and no damage on a successful saving throw (provided that the recipient isn't helpless).

    Fireball is a good example of this kind of spell.

    None: No saving throw is allowed (and enough said).

    Disbelief: A successful save lets a creature ignore the effect. Spells that allow this kind of saving throw usually are from the illusion school, and they usually don't have any direct effects on creatures or objects, but instead have effect or area entries. Creatures make their disbelief saves upon interacting with the area or effect in some fashion. The rules don't give any guidelines on what kind of interaction is required. As a rule of thumb, a creature interacts with something upon attacking it, studying it, touching it, talking to it, or doing something else that one might do with a real creature or object. Merely looking at something usually doesn't qualify as interaction, but using an action (standard or full-round) to study or identify it does. Sometimes a disbelief save is automatic, such as when a character tries to touch an illusory wall and his hand passes right through it (see page 173 in the Player's Handbook for details).

    Silent image is a good example of this kind of spell.

    Object: When a saving throw entry ends with this notation, it indicates that the spell can be aimed at an object (most spells that have this notation have a target entry). A reminder is in order here -- these spells don't necessarily only affect objects (though some do).

    An object that receives the spell gets a saving throw only if it is magical or if a creature wears or carries the object. See page 177 in the Player's Handbook for details.

    Undetectable alignment is a good example of this kind of spell.

    Harmless: When a saving throw entry ends with this notation, it indicates that the spell usually is beneficial, not harmful. The recipient can attempt a saving throw if it desires.

    Darkvision is a good example of this kind of spell.

    Spell Resistance

    The final entry in the spell header tells you if the spell must overcome spell resistance (if any) to affect the recipient. If the entry is "no" then the spell most likely does not affect the recipient directly, but instead either affects an area or produces an effect which then produces the spell's result. Most spells that work only on willing creatures also have a spell resistance entry of "no" because it is assumed that a willing creature lowers its spell resistance before receiving the spell.

    If the spell entry is "yes," the spell usually goes to work directly on the recipient's mind or body and the caster must make a level check to overcome spell resistance before the spell can affect the creature.

    PART VII

    We'll conclude our discussion of spells with a look at descriptive text for spells and at spell chains.

    Descriptive Text

    After the spell header are one or more paragraphs of text that supplements the information in the spell header. Description text gives details such as how much damage the spell deals, what effect the spell has on the recipient, or other information about how the spell functions.

    No hard and fast rules exist for interpreting the information found in a spell's descriptive text, but take a look at a few tips:

    • The header takes precedence: None of the information in a spell's descriptive text is intended to contradict what's shown in the spell header, though it often helps modify it in some way.

    • Descriptive text usually doesn't bother saying what the spell does not do: The list of things a spell can't do is theoretically endless, so the spell description usually doesn't even attempt to do so. Instead, the descriptive text tries to explain what the spell does as succinctly as possible. If you don't find something in a spell's descriptive text, it's a pretty good bet the spell doesn't do it.

    • Descriptive text usually doesn't consider the effects of saving throws, spell resistance, or creature immunities: As noted in Part Six, most spell descriptions are written with the assumption that the recipient's saving throw against the spell (if one is allowed) fails. Likewise, the spell description doesn't bother to remind you that the spell won't work on recipients that are immune to it. For example, the fireball description doesn't tell you that the spell won't damage things that are immune to fire. You're expected to figure that out for yourself when you note the spell's fire descriptor.

    • Descriptive text is meant to be considered as a whole: The easiest way to completely misunderstand what a spell does is to focus on one part of the descriptive text to the exclusion on the rest of the text. This can prove easy to do when the descriptive text is long or complex.
    For example, the spiritual weapon spell seems straightforward at first; the spell creates a force weapon that you use to bash your foes. Simple, right? Well, not quite, as the sheer length of the descriptive text (more than a third of a page) attests. Some folks, however, stumble over the last sentence in the first paragraph, which says that the weapon returns to you and hovers when you're not directing it. If you don't consider what the rest of the descriptive text says, you might conclude that you must use an action each round to make the weapon attack. If you did, however, you'd be wrong. The second paragraph of the descriptive text explains that once you select a target, the weapon attacks the previous round's target. So long as the previous round's target is in range in and in your line of sight, the weapon is "directed" without any action from you.

    Spell Chains

    A group of spells, all at different levels, that resemble each other in terms of their effects or results constitute a spell chain. In general, only the lowest level spell in a spell chain will have a full description, with a complete header and complete descriptive text. The higher-level spells in the chain have incomplete descriptions that contain only those elements that differ from the spell at the beginning of the chain.

    It's usually pretty easy to note when a spell is part of a chain, because the spell will have a name the includes the words "greater" or "lesser" or the spell name gives some other hint that it's part of a chain (the various cure spells, for example, which all contain "cure" and go from "minor" to "critical" and then begin adding "mass"). Spells that are part of a chain often have incomplete headers and very short bits of descriptive text. Headers, for example, usually only contain entries that make the spell different from other spells in the chain. To get a full picture of what the spell does, you have to flip back to the base spell in the chain. (The spell's descriptive text tells you the spell to reference.)

    Page Last Updated Feburary 15th, 2005

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