A Tour of Advanced Arcana IV

November 21st, 2013

Alex Riggs

Obscure Arcana Archive

            As you’re hopefully aware, we just released the latest (and possibly greatest) installment in our most popular series, Advanced Arcana. The fourth installment, like all the installments before it, includes several new mechanical twists that work together to try to explore and push the boundaries of how spells work in Pathfinder in new and exciting ways. In the past we’ve played with spell slots and casting times; we’ve played with spells that react to their environment and the way that they are cast to be different at different times; and we’ve experimented with spells that don’t act like spells at all, instead modifying other spells, granting powers while they’re prepared, and “leveling up” with the caster. So what do we have in store this time around?

            In an ideal world, you would already know the answer to that question, because you would have already purchased a copy of Advanced Arcana IV and read it from cover to cover. In fact, in an ideal world, this whole article would probably prove incredibly disappointing. But for those of you who aren’t yet sure whether or not you want to pick up a copy of Advanced Arcana IV, or who know you don’t intend to but would still like a handful of spells from it, here’s a tour of what the spells of the book have to offer.

            The main “theme” of Advanced Arcana IV is blurring the edges between different schools of magic, and trying to make the school (and, to a lesser extent, spell list) of a spell more important, interesting, and fun. After all, at the moment, the only class that typically cares about a spell’s school is the wizard, and even then only in the case of his single favored and single opposed schools. As a result, a large focus of the book is on spells that have multiple schools.

            Now, this has been tried before in the past, and, if you’re like most people, you probably found it pretty underwhelming. The problem with the 3.5 OGL spells that had multiple schools was that it didn’t matter that they had multiple schools. So, we were careful to create a mechanic that really highlighted the duality of the spell. Here’s one of my favorites:


School abjuration or transmutation; Level cleric 7, druid 7, sorcerer/wizard 8
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M/DF (the foot of a rabbit that has been struck by lightning)
Range touch
Area 250-ft.-radius, centered on touched point
Duration 1 min./level

                You call into being a powerful storm, which appears instantly, as the sky suddenly transforms to reflect your wrath. The affected area is immediately subjected to a hurricane (or, in cold climates, a blizzard). This causes the wind speed in the affected area to increase to 55 mile per hour, making normal ranged attacks impossible, and imposing a -4 penalty on ranged attacks made with siege weapons. Additionally, creatures of Medium size or smaller are unable to move against the force of the wind unless they succeed on a DC 10 Strength check (if on the ground) or DC 20 Fly check (if airborne). Further, creatures of Small size or smaller are at risk of being blown away: if the creature is on the ground, it must succeed on a DC 15 Strength check or be knocked prone and roll 1d4 x 10 feet, suffering 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet moved in this way, whereas if the creature is in the air, it must succeed on a DC 25 Fly check or by blown back 2d6 x 10 feet and take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage per 10 feet moved in this way. Finally, all creatures in the affected area suffer a -8 penalty on Fly checks.

                Additionally, the affected area is also subject to a downpour (in warm and temperate areas) or heavy snow (in cold areas). A downpour reduces visibility by half, imposing a -4 penalty on Perception checks, and also obscures all sight beyond 5 feet, including darkvision. Creatures 5 feet away have concealment (20% miss chance). Heavy snow has the same effects, but after 5 minutes of heavy snow, the ground in the affected area becomes covered with snow, and it costs 2 squares of movement to enter such a square. After 15 minutes of heavy snow, the ground in the affected area becomes covered with heavy snow, and it costs 4 squares of movement to enter such a square. Any snow created by the storm remains after the end of the spell’s duration, until it melts naturally or is otherwise dealt with.

                If cast as an abjuration spell, you do not suffer the brunt of the storm. Your vision is not affected by the rain or snow, and you do not need to make Strength checks to avoid being checked or blown away, regardless of your size. Finally, you are able to make ranged attacks in the storm, although you still suffer a -4 penalty on such attacks.

                If cast as a transmutation spell, the winds of the storm lift you into the air and carry you aloft. As long as you remain in the affected area, you gain a fly speed equal to your base movement speed, with average maneuverability. You gain a bonus on all Fly checks made in the affected area equal to your caster level (to a maximum of +20 at 20th level), and do not suffer the normal -8 penalty on Fly checks imposed by the storm. You are still subject to being checked or blown away, and must make Fly checks each round, if appropriate.


            We call these spells alternate-school spells, and the main way that they differ from multi-school spells that you may have seen in the past is that they can, essentially, be cast as either one school or another, and while the core of the spell remains the same regardless, various additional factors, dependent on the chosen school, modify the spell, potentially causing wildly different effects.

            There was another approach to multi-schooled spells that we took, as well, though. Mechanically, the fact that these spells had two schools was not as important. It will come up for wizards, and in a few other fringe cases (the book contains an appendix with a new spellcasting class that actually cares very much about the schools of the spells that he casts), but for the most part, mechanically, it won’t matter. So why bother making it multi-schooled in the first place? Because we discovered that when building a spell’s concept from the ground up, envisioning it as a combination of two specific schools frequently lead to exciting, splashy, and altogether sexy effects. For those of you who are familiar with Magic: the Gathering, you could think of it as similar to the way that gold cards are just more exciting than monocolored cards. For the rest of you…let me show you some things.


School evocation and necromancy [electricity, evil]; Level sorcerer/wizard 7, witch 7
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (a miniature copper replica of a human skeleton)
Range 120 ft.
Area 120-ft. line
Duration instantaneous
Saving Throw Reflex half; Spell Resistance yes

                You release a crackling, branching arc of purple lightning from your hand, which courses through everything in its path, and those slain by this burst of magical energy have their hearts re-started by a fell taint of necromancy that is laced within the spell.

                You deal 1d6 points of electricity damage per caster level (to a maximum of 20d6 at 20th level) to each creature within the spell’s area. The area begins at the edge of your square. Morticia’s dark lightning sets fire to combustibles and damages objects in its path. It can melt metals with a low melting point, such as lead, gold, copper, silver or bronze. If the damage caused to an interposing barrier shatters or breaks through it, the bolt may continue beyond the barrier if the spell’s range permits; otherwise, it stops at the barrier just as any other spell effect does.

                Additionally, any humanoid creature that dies as a result of this spell is animated as a ghast. Any ghasts created in this way serve you faithfully, as though they had been created with the create undead spell, and count against the number of Hit Dice of undead that you can control with animate dead and similar effects. These ghasts are super-charged with electrical energy, and each of their natural attacks deals an additional 4d6 points of electricity damage on a successful hit. This effect lasts until the ghast has dealt a total amount of electricity damage equal to your caster level, after which the electricity is spent, and it becomes a normal ghast. Non-humanoid creatures that die as a result of this spell die normally, and are not animated.


School conjuration and divination (teleportation); Level sorcerer/wizard 5, summoner 4, witch 6
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, F (a sundial made entirely of gold)
Range touch
Target object touched
Duration see text
Saving Throw Fortitude negates (object); Spell Resistance yes (object)

                You send the touched object into the future or past. If you choose to send it into the future, then when you cast the spell, determine a time within 1 day per caster level from the time that the spell was cast. The object vanishes and effectively ceases to exist until the chosen time, at which point it appears in the exact location that it was in when the spell was cast, as though no time had passed at all since casting the spell.

                Sending an object into the past is much more difficult, as it flies in the face of causality and creates problems in the time stream, but it is possible. If you choose to send the target to the past, determine a time prior to casting the spell that is within 1 minute per caster level. There is a 50% chance that casting the spell in this way causes it to backfire, having no effect other than to inflict 4d6 points of damage to you. If the spell does not backfire, however, the object retroactively appears at that time in the exact location where it is when you cast the spell. At the same time that the object appears in the chosen location in the past, the version of the object from the past immediately ceases to be, so that only the version that you sent back to the past exists, effectively “overwriting” the previously-existing version. Sending an object into the past in this way may or may not alter the corresponding events, possibly creating a situation in which you never actually take the time to cast this spell in the first place. Even if this occurs, the spell slot is still expended, and nothing can prevent this from occurring.

                Artifacts cannot be affected by this spell.


            Now, could Morticia’s dark lightning have been a necromancy spell without evocation? We probably would have had to have changed the type of damage it dealt, but the answer is yes, for certain. Could temporal dislocation have been just a conjuration spell? Probably. The core rules are actually full of spells that should probably be multiple schools. Fire trap begs for evocation, stoneskin transmutation, phantasmal killer necromancy, shadow walk conjuration, and so on and so forth. The reason why these spells are special is because, by deliberately setting out to create an effect that required two different schools of magic to accomplish, we made spells that were cooler and more exciting. In fact, we had to cull quite a few perfectly-good spells that simply did not pass the extra-high coolness bar that we set, and you got to see several of them in an article a couple weeks back. Can you guess what extra schools those spells used to have?


            Of course, there are other ways to bridge schools of magic…at least, there are if you have access to things like fountain spells.


School divination [mind-affecting]; Levels bard 4, inquisitor 4, sorcerer/wizard 4, witch 4
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, F (a 1-inch copper dome)
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target one living creature
Duration 1 min./level
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

                You tap into the target’s mind, allowing you to mentally hear its surface thoughts. This functions as detect thoughts, except that you can only hear the thoughts of the target, and you do not need to concentrate for multiple rounds in order to gain the full information.

                Additionally, you are able to passively draw upon the target’s mind in order to power a mentally-oriented spell. As soon as the spell is cast, you may immediately prepare any spell with the mind-affecting descriptor that is 2nd-level or lower, and which you have cast since the last time you prepared spells. The chosen spell is restored to your mind, as though you had not yet cast it. If you are a spontaneous caster, you instead regain the use of a single spell slot of 2nd-level or lower that you have already expended since the last time you regained spells, and which you can use to cast a spell with the mind-affecting descriptor. You can only use that spell slot to cast spells with the mind-affecting descriptor until the next time you rest and regain your spells.

                Finally, if you cast the spell that you regain as a result of this spell on the same target before mind probe’s duration expires, the saving throw DC of that spell increases by +2.


            That’s right! Fountain spells, the most popular (and, likely, powerful) mechanic from the original Advanced Arcana is back. This time, with a tweak that the type of spell that is regained is more closely regulated, based on the theme of the spell (fear not, though, for the extra restriction allows us to be that much more generous as far as the spell’s effect). Many, like the example above, can fetch spells of a different school than the one that they, themselves, are, which can make for some fun interactions with alternate-school or dual-school spells, like above.

            Finally, the last new mechanic introduced in the book is alternate-list spells, which work similarly to alternate-school spells, except that the added effect depends on what spellcasting list the spell was cast from. For example…


School conjuration; Level cleric 6, druid 7, witch 8
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (rose-scented salve)
Range touch
Target living creature touched
Duration instantaneous; see text
Saving Throw Will partial, see text; Spell Resistance yes

                You fill the target with healing energy that not only cures its wounds, but also fills it with a soothing sense of peace. The target regains a number of lost hit points equal to 6d6 plus 1 point per caster level (maximum +20), and is affected as though by calm emotions.

                If cast as a cleric spell, you may choose to fill the target’s mind with peaceful thoughts, making it difficult for him to attack. If you do, then the target cannot take any hostile action (including making attacks, casting spells that deal damage or allow a saving throw that is not denoted as harmless, and other direct acts of violence) unless he succeeds on a Will save (DC equal to healing favor’s DC). If the save fails, the action is wasted. Even if the save succeeds, he must continue making Will saves if he wants to perform further hostile actions. This effect lasts for 1 round per two caster levels.

                If cast as a druid spell, you may choose to have the target fall into a deep, restful slumber. The target must succeed on a Will save (DC equal to healing favor’s DC) or fall asleep for a number of hours equal to your caster level. While sleeping in this way, the target gains regeneration 5, which can only be overcome by fire or acid damage, and heals 1 point of ability damage per hour. The target is not awakened by noise of any kind, but can be deliberately awoken as a full-round action that provokes attacks of opportunity, and requires physical contact with the target. If the target is awakened early, he ceases gaining the listed benefits.

                If cast as a witch spell, your soothing energy leaves the target enamored with you, and instills a deep sense of gratitude and affection towards you. The target must succeed on a Will save (DC equal to healing favor’s DC) or be affected as though by the spell charm monster, except that the effect lasts one day per caster level.


            Like alternate-school spells, these spells have a core that remains the same, but have significant changes depending on what class is casting them. While that can be interesting enough in and of itself, this also has some fun interactions with wands, potions, scrolls, and similar, which reward clever casters.

            And, of course, as always for Advanced Arcana, there are a whole lot of extra spells that don’t have any fancy-schmancy mechanics, but are just good, solid, fun spells. Like these:


School enchantment (compulsion) [mind-affecting]; Level druid 6, sorcerer/wizard 4, witch 5
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M/DF (the beak of a chicken)
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target one intelligent creature
Duration 1 round/level (D)
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

                You shroud the target’s mind in confusing and befuddling magic, which shuts off access to higher thinking, and makes the target believe that he is a chicken. The target loses all weapon and armor proficiencies (and drops everything that he’s holding), and cannot use any class features that require conscious effort to use, including spellcasting, extraordinary, supernatural, and spell-like abilities. Further, for the spell’s duration, the target acts with animal intelligence, and is unable to speak or understand language of any kind. Finally, the target suffers a -4 penalty on saving throws made to resist fear effects.

                Creatures that already have an Intelligence score of 2 or lower are unaffected by this spell.


School divination; Level bard 2, cleric 2, druid 2, inquisitor 2, ranger 2, sorcerer/wizard 2, witch 2
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, F (a map worth at least 10 gp)
Range close (25 ft. + 5 ft./level); see text
Target one creature
Duration 1 hour/level
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes

                For the spell’s duration, the target’s current location is displayed on the map that serves as the spell’s focus. The target’s marker on the map moves as he does, and his location on the map is updated in real-time. In order to cast the spell, you must be within close range of the target (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels), but after that, it does not matter how far you (or the map) are from the target. The spell only displays the target’s location on the map, and the area that the map covers does not change as a result of the spell, meaning that if the target leaves the area depicted on the map, he can no longer be tracked by the spell (if he later returns to that area before the spell’s duration expires, his location appears on the map again). Similarly, the map is able to display the target’s location only as accurately as its scale allows: a map of a castle could easily display which room the target was in and where he was in it, whereas a map of the entire world might be able to do little better than specify what country the target was in. If the map is destroyed, the spell ends.



            And that concludes our tour. Of course, Advanced Arcana IV has a lot of great content beyond spells, too, including a pair of very hefty appendices covering spell mastery—a system of becoming better at casting certain spells, allowing you to gain more benefit when casting them—and places of power—a system for creating and maintaining a sanctum in which your magic (and magic-related abilities) are enhanced, plus a whole lot more. So, what are you waiting for? Check out Advanced Arcana IV today.