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Pathfinder - How to Play 8.1 - Spell Descriptions

To understand how spells work, it helps to understand how a spell is presented. The description of each spell is presented in a standard format. Each category of information is explained and defined below, but note that not all spells include every category.


The first line of every spell description gives the name by which the spell is generally known.

School (Subschool)

Beneath the spell name is a line giving the school of magic (and the subschool, if any) to which the spell belongs.

Almost every spell belongs to one of eight schools of magic. A school of magic is a group of related spells that work in similar ways. A small number of spells (arcane mark, limited wish, permanency, prestidigitation, and wish) are universal, belonging to no school.


Abjurations are protective spells. They create physical or magical barriers, negate magical or physical abilities, harm trespassers, or even banish the subject of the spell to another plane of existence. Abjuration also includes spells like Dispel Magic which are important for removing other magical effects.

If an abjuration creates a barrier that keeps certain types of creatures at bay (such as Magic Circle Against Evil or Antipathy), that barrier cannot be used to push away those creatures. If you force the barrier against such a creature, you feel a discernible pressure against the barrier. If you continue to apply pressure, you end the spell.


Each conjuration spell belongs to one of five subschools. Conjurations transport creatures from another plane of existence to your plane (calling); create objects or effects on the spot (creation); heal (healing); bring manifestations of objects, creatures, or forms of energy to you (summoning); or transport creatures or objects over great distances (teleportation). Creatures you conjure usually-but not always-obey your commands.

A creature or object brought into being or transported to your location by a conjuration spell cannot appear inside another creature or object, nor can it appear floating in an empty space. It must arrive in an open location on a surface capable of supporting it. The creature or object must appear within the spell's range, but it does not have to remain within the range.



Divination spells enable you to learn secrets long forgotten, predict the future, find hidden things, and foil deceptive spells. Divination spells are important tools for gathering information, and few parties are foolish enough to leave home without someone who can cast Detect Magic.

Many divination spells, such as Detect Magic and Detect Evil, have cone-shaped areas. These move with you and extend in the direction you choose. The cone defines the area that you can sweep each round. If you study the same area for multiple rounds, you can often gain additional information, as noted in the descriptive text for the spell.

Many Divination spells, including Detect Magic, can be blocked by a thin sheet of lead, or a sufficiently thick quantity of other dense materials like stone. Because of this, many spellcasters are smart enough to line their homes with lead to keep out prying eyes.



Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior. All enchantments are mind-affecting spells. Two subschools of enchantment spells grant you influence over a subject creature.


Evocation spells manipulate magical energy or tap an unseen source of power to produce a desired end. In effect, an evocation draws upon magic to create something out of nothing. Many of these spells produce spectacular effects, and evocation spells can deal large amounts of damage.

Evocation spells are the most common way for Arcane spellcasters to deal damage with spells. Iconic spells like Magic Missile, Lightning Bolt, and Fireball are all examples of Evocations spells. If you are new to playing a spellcaster, and Evoker is an excellent way to learn, and can be a lot of fun. There are few things more satisfying than casting fireball and picking up a bucket of d6's to roll damage.


Illusion spells deceive the senses or minds of others. They cause people to see things that are not there, not see things that are there, hear phantom noises, or remember things that never happened.

Illusions are complicated. They require that you be creative enough to use them well, and that your GM be creative enough to make the other creatures in the game respond appropriately to the illusions. If you plan to use illusions extensively, talk with your GM ahead of time to make sure that they will work as well as your hope they will.

Saving Throws and Illusions (Disbelief)

Creatures encountering an illusion usually do not receive saving throws to recognize it as illusory until they study it carefully or interact with it in some fashion. The rules don't specify what is involved in studying something carefully, so check with your GM. A Perception check may be sufficient.

A successful saving throw against an illusion reveals it to be false, but a figment or phantasm (see Subschools below) remains as a translucent outline.

A failed saving throw indicates that a character fails to notice something is amiss. A character faced with proof that an illusion isn't real (such as an object passing through the illusion) needs no saving throw. If any viewer successfully disbelieves an illusion and communicates this fact to others, each such viewer gains a saving throw with a +4 bonus.



Necromancy spells manipulate the power of death, unlife, and the life force. Spells involving Undead creatures make up a large part of this school.


Transmutation spells change the properties of some creature, thing, or condition.


Appearing on the same line as the school and subschool, when applicable, is a descriptor that further categorizes the spell in some way. Some spells have more than one descriptor.


Most of these descriptors have no game effect by themselves, but they govern how the spell interacts with other spells, with special abilities, with unusual creatures, with alignment, and so on. For example: Creatures with a Good alignment cannot cast spells with the Evil Descriptor.

A language-dependent spell uses intelligible language as a medium for communication. If the target cannot understand or cannot hear what the caster of a language-dependent spell says, the spell fails.

A mind-affecting spell works only against creatures with an Intelligence score of 1 or higher. Creatures with no intelligence score are mindless, so they are immune.


The next line of a spell description gives the spell's level, a number between 0 and 9 that defines the spell's relative power. This number is preceded by a list of classes whose members can cast the spell. A spell's level affects the DC for any save allowed against its effects. Remember that Spell Level is different from Class Level or Character Level. Different classes gain access to new spell levels at different rates.


A spell's components explain what you must do or possess to cast the spell. The components entry in a spell description includes abbreviations that tell you what type of components it requires. Specifics for material and focus components are given at the end of the descriptive text. Usually you don't need to worry about components, but when you can't use a component for some reason or when a material or focus component is expensive, then the components are important.

If the Components line includes F/DF or M/DF, the arcane version of the spell has a focus component or a material component (the abbreviation before the slash) and the divine version has a divine focus component (the abbreviation after the slash).

Casting Time

Most spells have a casting time of 1 standard action. Others take 1 round or more, while a few require only a swift action.

A spell that takes 1 round to cast is a full-round action. It comes into effect just before the beginning of your turn in the round after you began casting the spell. You then act normally after the spell is completed.

A spell that takes 1 minute to cast comes into effect just before your turn 1 minute later (and for each of those 10 rounds, you are casting a spell as a full-round action, just as noted above for 1-round casting times). These actions must be consecutive and uninterrupted, or the spell automatically fails.

When you begin a spell that takes 1 round or longer to cast, you must continue the concentration from the current round to just before your turn in the next round (at least). If you lose concentration before the casting is complete, you lose the spell.

A spell with a casting time of 1 swift action doesn't count against your normal limit of one spell per round. However, you may cast such a spell only once per round. Casting a spell with a casting time of 1 swift action doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity.

You make all pertinent decisions about a spell (range, target, area, effect, version, and so forth) when the spell comes into effect.


A spell's range indicates how far from you it can reach, as defined in the range entry of the spell description. A spell's range is the maximum distance from you that the spell's effect can occur, as well as the maximum distance at which you can designate the spell's point of origin. If any portion of the spell's area would extend beyond this range, that area is wasted. Standard ranges include the following.

Remember that calculating range uses the same rules as calculating distance for movement, so diagonal squares cost 1.5 squares, rounded down.


A spell's duration entry tells you how long the magical energy of the spell lasts.

Saving Throw

Usually a harmful spell allows a target to make a saving throw to avoid some or all of the effect. The saving throw entry in a spell description defines which type of saving throw the spell allows and describes how saving throws against the spell work. For more on Saving Throws against spells, see Resisting a Spell.

Saving Throw Difficulty Class

A saving throw against your spell has a DC of 10 + the level of the spell + your bonus for the relevant ability (Intelligence for a wizard, Charisma for a Bard, Paladin, Sorcerer, or Summoner, or Wisdom for a Cleric, Druid, Oracle, or Ranger). A spell's level can vary depending on your class. Always use the spell level applicable to your class. Your spell's DC can also be improved by Feats like Spell Focus.

Spell Resistance

Spell resistance is a special defensive ability. If your spell is being resisted by a creature with spell resistance, you must make a caster level check (1d20 + caster level) at least equal to the creature's spell resistance for the spell to affect that creature. For more on Spell Resistance, see Resisting a Spell.

Descriptive Text

This portion of a spell description details what the spell does and how it works. If one of the previous entries in the description includes "see text," this is where the explanation is found. Be sure to read this section thoroughly, as it often contains considerably more important information than the rest of the spell's description.