Pathfinder for Beginners: Introduction to Magic

There are so many aspects of Pathfinder, so I’m just going to tackle one at a time. Today’s post looks at the basics of magic in Pathfinder roleplaying game: the different types of magic and spellcasters. To keep this post from becoming too long, I’ll discuss how to actually cast spells in another post.

It’s worth noting that there are a lot of spells in Pathfinder, and all of them have their role in the game. A big fireball that does a lot of damage may look impressive, but the spellcasters that help improve the party’s defenses or reduce the enemy’s effectiveness or heal the heroes after the battle are just as important as the one that cast the fireball.

Types of Magic

Ezren the WizardThere are several types of magic in Pathfinder, which is determined by the type of magic specified in the spellcaster’s class description. Most spells are cast in the same way, regardless of their type.

Arcane: Classes that rely on innate magical abilities, like sorcerers, or classes that study magic, like wizards, usually cast arcane spells.

Complex movements (called somatic components) are often needed to cast arcane spells. Wearing armour interferes with this (and can cause a spell to be wasted), so most arcane spellcasters don’t wear armour of any sort. The percentage chance of failure is always listed with the other stats of the armour. Some characters may have special training that allows them to more easily cast arcane spells while wearing armour.

Divine: When classes are granted spells by their deity, the power of nature, or a similarly powerful force, it is usually divine magic. This magic can be cast while wearing armour without the failure chance arcane spellcasters suffer from.

Psychic: Used by the new classes from Occult Adventures, psychic spells function much the same as the other types of spells, but for psychic characters, they are purely mental actions and as such aren’t affected by armour or even paralysis.

Spell-like Abilities: Some creatures have access to spell-like abilities. These function like the spell of the same name, but casting the spell is a purely mental action, requiring none of the components usually needed by spells, and are thus not affected by armour either.

Schools of Magic

All spells belong to one of the eight schools of magic, with a few exceptions that are universal and belong to no school. The schools help clarify what type of effect is created when the spell is cast. Mechanically, this is important to characters with school-specific abilities, bonuses or restrictions. Many schools have subschools, which may also affect the use of certain abilities and bonuses.

Below, I’ve listed each of the schools of magic and an example or two of spells that come from that school.

  • Abjuration: Protective spells, like shield.
  • Conjuration: Includes several subschools, covering a range of spells that can call (planar binding) or summon creatures (summon monster I), create objects or creatures (create food and water), heal (cure light wounds), and teleport (dimension door).
  • Divination: Spells that allow you to find forgotten or hidden things, or predict the future, like detect magic.
  • Enchantment: These spells attempt to influence or control the behaviour of others, such as in the case of charm person.
  • Evocation: These are your big damage spells, like fireball.
  • Illusion: These spells alter perceptions or minds, creating false images or changes the look of something, such as invisibility.
  • Necromancy: This school largely deals with the undead, either animating or communicating with the deceased, such as create undead, while other spells focus on damage, like finger of death.
  • Transmutation: These spells change the properties of matter, whether this means changing the form of a creature, as in the case of baleful polymorph, or reducing an enemy to dust with disintegrate.

Spellcaster Roles

Many of the Pathfinder spellcasting classes can fill more than one of the roles below, but many spellcasters lean towards a certain role.

  • Blaster: Focuses on dealing damage to enemies.
  • Healer: Uses magic to heal their allies, and possibly restore them to life if they die. (Alternatively they might raise the bodies of fallen enemies to serve them.)
  • Disabler: Helps to reduce the defenses of enemies, incapacitate them, and generally makes the enemies’ lives difficult, and ultimately, shorter.
  • Support: Improves the abilities of their allies using magic.
  • Summoner: Calls creatures to aid the spellcaster and his allies. (Note: Although there is a class called summoner, many other spellcasters can summon creatures.)

Spellcasting Classes

Iconic Psychic RivaniPrepared Casters: Some spellcasters need to prepare the spells they intend to cast during the day ahead of time. This may involve studying their spellbook, praying to their deity, or communing with a spirit. They can only prepare a certain number of spells per day, based on their level and attributes. There are some class-specific exceptions, but generally, a prepared caster cannot cast a spell he has not prepared for that day.

Prepared casters tend to be more versatile than their spontaneous counterparts when they have the time and knowledge to prepare spells suited to the situation.

Spontaneous Casters: These spellcasters don’t need to choose their daily spells ahead of time. However, they usually have fewer spells to choose from than a prepared caster. This makes them more useful than prepared casters when they know a spell appropriate to the situation. For example, when facing monsters weak to fire, a wizard who has prepared one fireball will have to resort to other spells after using that spell. A sorcerer who knows fireball can cast as many as she wants – limited only by the number of spell slots she has available.

Here’s a rundown of the categories that each class fits into:

Arcane Spellcasters:

  • Prepared: Arcanist*, Magus, Witch, Wizard
  • Spontaneous: Bard, Bloodrager, Skald, Sorcerer, Summoner

Divine Spellcasters:

  • Prepared: Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Shaman, Warpriest
  • Spontaneous: Hunter, Inquisitor, Oracle

Psychic Spellcasters:

  • Prepared: –
  • Spontaneous: Medium, Mesmerist, Occultist, Psychic, Spiritualist

* Being a mix of the wizard and sorcerer classes, the arcanist’s spell casting doesn’t work quite the same as other prepared spellcasters, but she must still prepare spells daily. 

I hope you have found this introduction to magic in Pathfinder roleplaying game helpful. I will cover the casting of spells in a future post. Please feel free to post ideas, questions or suggestions in the comments section below. 

For more detail on magic and spellcasting, have a look at the magic chapter of the Core Rulebook. Its contents are also available online (like all Pathfinder rules).

Header image by Rob-Joseph on Deviant Art. Character illustrations by Wayne Reynolds.

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