Last Updated: March 18, 2023
Illusion is one of the most complex, open-ended, and flexible schools of magic. It is limited only by your and your DM’s imaginations. If you are a creative, artistic person who thinks on their feet, Illusions can be exceptionally powerful. While there are spell options like Phantasmal Killer and Simulacrum which go well beyond the concept of sensory illusions (making stuff which appears to be real), School of Illusion strictly emphasizes sensory illusions, and gives you new options to make those spells more flexible, versatile, and powerful.
However, the freeform nature of illusions also means that your spells place a great deal of burden on your DM to interpret their effects and how other creatures will respond to them. If your DM is the sort of person who will play along with your shenanigans, School of Illusion can be a ton of fun. But if your DM is a mechanical stickler or in any way adversarial or contrarian, you may find that illusions are difficult to use to great effect.
I recommend reserving School of Illusion for games where the DM is reasonably experienced and comfortable running the game. It’s unkind to throw something so disruptive into a game where your DM is still getting comfortable with the game’s mechanics.
Assuming that an illusionist works in your game, they can be effective Controllers and Strikers. Spells like Invisibility and ample options for distraction and hiding may also make you an effective Scout. To get the most out of your illusion spells, be sure to read our Practical Guide to Illusions.
Table of Contents
- School of Illusion Features
- School of Illusion Ability Scores
- School of Illusion Races
- School of Illusion Feats
- School of Illusion Armor and Weapons
- Example Build – Everything is Cake an Illusion
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
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School of Illusion Features
- : Standard for PHB wizard subclasses. Strangely, this feature incentivizes you to use your two free spells learned per level to learn literally anything except spells from your favorite school.
- : Minor Illusion can be incredibly powerful in the hands of a smart caster, and adding both effects on one casting makes it considerably more useful. Creating an illusion of a pot lying on the floor accompanied by the sound of a pot falling, or an illusion of a small animal accompanied by appropriate sounds (I’m fond of chickens for this purpose) can be excellent distractions, and creatures don’t get a save or a skill check to disbelieve the illusion until they spend an Action to do so.
- : Most illusion spells which create an ongoing illusory effect (Minor Image, Hallucinatory Terrain, etc.) do not allow you to change the illusion once it’s in place. Minor Image and Major Image allow you to move and animate the illusion, but that can turn a red ball into a rolling or bouncing red ball, but nothing more. Malleable Illusions could turn your red ball into a statue of a dragon or something, effectively replacing your existing illusion without re-casting the spell. This adds a ton of flexibility to such spells.
- : Infallibly ignore one attack against you for free, once per Short or Long Rest. Very good for a squishy Wizard. Combined with other defensive measures like hiding and using cover, you may even be able to forgo Shield.
You can’t directly harm creatures with Illusory Reality, but the rules say nothing about impeding, restraining, blocking, or even dropping them. Throw up a Silent Image to create a wall of stone between you and your foes, or to put a cage around them. Create an illusory bridge with a convenient trap door (or just time it so that they’re on the bridge when the 1-minute duration expires) and drop your enemies into a pit.
: This turns your
illusions into creation spells, which means that any tool that you can
imagine is available for the low cost of casting Silent Image. Sadly,
Malleable Illusions likely doesn’t let you change the object which you’ve
chosen to make real because Illusory Reality only applies when you cast the
School of Illusion Ability Scores
Little different from any other wizard.
School of Illusion Races
No different from any other wizard. Forest gnomes get Minor Illusion as a racial trait, but that’s no better than getting an extra cantrip by any other means.
School of Illusion Feats
Little different from any other wizard, but a few exceptions.
- TCoE: Mask of Many Faces and Misty Visions both get you illusions that you can cast without a spell slot. Misty Visions will be the more useful of the two. Unfortunately, you can’t take the feat twice.
School of Illusion Armor and Weapons
Example Build – Everything is
Cake an Illusion
In this build we’ll lean into illusions as control options and as a tool for scouting, allowing us to function similarly to a rogue outside of combat, then switch to crowd control when it’s time to fight.
We’ll mostly use the ability scores recommended in the Wizard Handbook. Sensory illusion spells like Minor Illusion barely care about your spellcasting DC, but many illusion spells do, so we do still need to invest in our Intelligence.
The one change we’ll make is switching Wisdom and Charisma because the Kenku’s Mimicry is Charisma-based. We’ll put out +2 in Intelligence and the remaining +1 wherever we want, then try not to let an odd-numbered ability score both us for the rest of our career.
Kenku. Two additional skills, Kenku Recall, and Mimicry.
Anything will work fine. I like rogue-adjacent backgrounds like Charlatan or Criminal because it’s a fun theme, but mechanically something like Sage is often more useful since you’re Intelligence-based. Since we’re trying to be rogue-adjacent, we’ll plan for Criminal.
Skills and Tools
We get Deception and Stealth from our background, and we’ll grab Arcana and Investigation from our class skills. With our two free skills from being a kenku, we’ll grab Perception (crucial while sneaking around) and History. That gives us a nice mix of skills for scouting and for being good at trivia.
Our background also gives us proficiency in a gaming set and Thieves’ Tools.
We have lots of room for feats. We don’t need to worry about Concentration as much as many other wizards because we can spend a lot of time hiding behind illusions to make ourselves hard to hurt. We need at least one hybrid feat, but if we were feeling crazy we could do hybrid feats all the way through the build.
We’ll grab Telekinetic at level 4. We don’t have anything in the subclass to keep our Bonus Action busy, and making our Mage Hand invisible means that we can create an illusory hiding place, hide inside it, and use Mage Hand to do stuff from a safe distance without revealing ourselves. Telekinetic’s Bonus Action can also help us reposition enemies to get greater effects from our illusions.
At level 12 we’ll take Metamagic Adept to pick up Extend Spell and Subtle Spell. Subtle Spell with an illusion is a great way to get out of trouble, and many of our favorite illusion spells benefit greatly from having their durations doubled.
At level 16 we’ll take Eldritch Adept to get Mask of Many Faces. More free illusions!
|Level||Feat(s) and Features||Notes and Tactics|
– Mage Hand
– Mind Sliver
– Minor Illusion
– Any 1
– Silent Image
– Any 5
|For your starting equipment, take a dagger, a component pouch or spellcasting focus, either pack, and a spellbook.|
We will get Minor Illusion for free from our race and again at level 2, but we’ll get to replace the redundant cantrip, so we can use our 3 wizard cantrips however we like.
Minor Illusion is great for distractions, but a 5-foot cube is plenty of space to give yourself something to hide in or behind. In combat, you can block line of sight to yourself and pop out to cast spells on your own turn.
Offensively, we’ll rely on Mind Sliver. It only has Verbal components and doesn’t have a clearly-described visual effect, so it’s easy to use it from inside an illusion without giving away that it’s not a real barrel or whatever else you’re pretending to hide in. We’ll grab Mage Hand so that when we get Telekinetic at level 4 it’ll get double range.
We’ll also grab Silent Image. It can be difficult to know which illusion spell to use at a glance, so be sure to read our Practical Guide to Illusions for help with your core illusions spells (minor/silent/major image).
Silent Image’s 15-foot cube is large enough to add all kinds of fake things to an area. Walls, tapestries, hazards like spikes, sleeping creatures, and whatever else you can think of. Use it to confuse, waylay, and isolate your enemies.
Beyond our basic illusions, we can select whatever we want. Staple wizard spells like Magic Missile and Mage Armor are still great choices.
Improved Minor Illusion
New Cantrip Known
– Any 2
|Improved Minor Illusion makes Minor Illusion into a tiny version of Major Image. It’s fantastically useful for all sorts of shenanigans, but the exact outcome of you casting the spell is largely up to your and your DM. Get creative.|
– Phantasmal Force
|Invisibility is great for scouting. With passable Stealth and Invisibility, you’re basically undetectable. If creatures hear you, use some combination of Minor Illusion and Mimicry to lead them away from yourself.|
Phantasmal Force is unfairly good for its level. The easiest way to use this is as a save-or-suck spell: put a 10-foot cubic box full of spikes around your target and keep them in time out for spell’s duration like a low-budget force cage. They’ll slowly take psychic damage, and most creatures will struggle to pass the Intelligence (Investigation) check to realize that it’s an illusion. While they’re trapped in a glass cage of emotion, you can pick at them with Mind Sliver.
|4||Feat: Telekinetic (Int 17 -> 18)|
New Cantrip Known
– Mirror Image
– Any 1
|Mirror Image is a great defensive option both because the math is good and because it doesn’t require Concentration. The only challenge is the 1-minute duration, so it’s hard to cast before combat gets going.|
– Hypnotic Pattern
– Major Image
|Hypnotic Pattern is an off switch for a whole encounter. If any enemies pass the save, deal with them first, then work through the rest one at a time.|
Major Image is a straight upgrade from Silent Image, but if you just need a stationary object like a wall or a fake door, stick to Silent Image. Use Major Image when the extra sensory effects will matter.
– Any 2
|Malleable Illusions gets really cool when we can cast illusions with permanent (or at least extremely long) durations.|
– Greater Invisibility
– Phantasmal Killer
|Greater Invisibility on your party’s rogue-equivalent can give them a huge boost in effectiveness in combat.|
Phantasmal Killer is your go-to offensive option for single targets likely to fail Wisdom saves. Hit them with it turn 1, then spend the rest of the encounter spamming Mind Sliver to penalize their saving throws until they fall down.
|8||Ability Score Increase (Int 18 -> 20)|
– Any 2
|Creation allows you to conjure up tools, roadblocks, etc.|
Seeming lets you disguise yourself and your whole party for 8 hours. Normally this is hard to use to great effect, but with Malleable Illusions you can repeatedly change the disguises whenever it would be even slightly helpful. Disguise yourself and your allies to look like your enemies. Have your allies spend a bunch of time making Investigation checks on one another so that they all know that they’re wearing disguises. Yes, it’s silly, but RAW that’s how it works.
|Illusory Self is a “get out of jail free” card for one attack per short rest. It’s excellent, but don’t rely on it to keep you safe all the time.|
Mislead is a weird spell. You can use it to draw attention, to scout safely, and to confuse your enemies. You may be able to do most of the same thing with Major Image, but you can’t see through your other illusions, and they don’t make you invisible.
– Mental Prison
– Programmed Illusion
|Mental Prison is an upgraded version of Phantasmal Force in some ways, but the ability to escape it means that it’s a less reliable way to isolate a creature, though the additional damage may be worth it.|
Programmed Illusion is a lot of fun for distractions, ambushes, distractions, and escapes.
6th-level spell slots also mean that we can upcast Major Image to make permanent illusions.
|12||Feat: Eldritch Adept (Misty Visions)|
– Any 2
|Silent Image for free whenever we want. It’s basically Sprell Mastery.|
When we get Illusory Reality in two levels, it works with Silent Image even when we cast it with Eldritch adept. Congratulations: you can create almost anything that fits into a 15-foot cube for a full minute whenever you want.
– Mirage Arcane
– Project Image
|Mirage Arcane is a really weird spell, and you’re not going to use it often, but the ability to turn normal, useful terrain into an absolute nightmare for 10 days (20 if you Extend it) can be very effective if you have enemies who need to move around in that area.|
Project Image can be used for scouting and for shenanigans. Arcane Eye is better (and cheaper) for scouting, but you can’t use Arcane Eye to put an illusion of yourself in a place that you couldn’t reasonably be in order to confuse your enemies.
– Any 2
|Now, reality can be whatever you want, at least for one minute after you cast a leveled illusion spell. Still, turning an illusory wall of adamantine into a real object for a full minute is enough to convince enemies that it will stay real so that they’ll either wait, go around, or give up and go home. Unfortunately it doesn’t work with Minor Illusion, but by this level Silent Image is inexpensive.|
This has some cool implications with Disguise Self, too. You can use it to give yourself an outfit that’s temporarily real! It’s more of a novelty than an actually useful tool, but it sure is fun.
– Illusory Dragon
|Illusory Dragon is basically a combat summon and you should use it like one. Summon it, throw it into an encounter, and let it do the work for you. Even if enemies discover that it’s an illusion, the breath weapon still hurts them.|
|16||Feat: Metamagic Adept|
– Any 2
|Extend Spell and Subtle Spell are valuable additions to our arsenal as described above.|
– Any 2
|Tragically, Weird is the only 9th-level illusion spell, and it’s really weak. Stick to staples like Psychic Scream and Wish.|
– Phantasmal Force
– Any 2
|Since we already have Silent Image for free, our 1st-level spell choice is free. Go for staples like Silvery Barbs.|
– Any 2
|At this point we have everything we want. Consider multiclassing. School of Illusion doesn’t have any uniquely cool 2-level dips, unfortunately, but go-to options like cleric and fighter always work.|
I would also recommend Eldritch Adept (Mask of Many Faces), but you can only take the feat once.
– Hypnotic Pattern
– Major Image
– Any 2
|Effectively two free 3rd-level spell slots per day with spells that we already really like.|