Most spellcasters spend their entire careers learning and mastering the spells that make up their calling, but there is another way. Some turn their backs on the rote memorization and formulae that traditional spellcasters use to create magic, and instead unlock the power behind the spells themselves, the fundamental building blocks of magic. Such a spellcaster learns the words of power, and through them, learns to control the very forces underlying magic, shaping and wielding them like no other.
While they function in much the same way as every other spellcaster, words of power spellcasters (or wordcasters, as they tend to call themselves) have a great deal of flexibility in how they prepare and cast their spells, which they call wordspells. Each wordcaster learns a number of words of power and, with some restrictions, can combine these words to create any effect he can dream up.
Words of power are an optional subsystem for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Before making a wordcaster, check with your GM to make sure her campaign allows them.
Words of power spellcasting is a complicated subsystem that, in the hands of players suffering from bouts of analysis paralysis, may slow down game play. But in the right hands, the system creates a fun, flexible play experience for fans of free-form spellcasting that works either alone or with standard Pathfinder spellcasters.
When a character gains the ability to cast spells from a class, he must decide whether to become a wordcaster or a normal spellcaster in that class. Once made, this choice cannot be changed. A character who elects to be a wordcaster in a spellcasting class typically cannot use the spells of that class (though there are feats that allow a wordcaster to learn and use a limited number of spells; see Word Caster Feats), but he can utilize spell trigger and spell completion items just as if he were an ordinary spellcaster of that class.
Words of power represent a primal form of magic used in ages past. As such, use of the words of power system is rare these days, and its practitioners tend to be masters of esoteric lore. Words of power constitute a root system, from which all modern magic descends. Although powerful, this system is more primitive in some ways than modern magic. Flexible, but lacking the refinement of modern spells, this system allows spellcasters to shape magic in ways they never could before, while simultaneously preventing them from producing the same sort of incredibly specific effects that ordinary spellcasters master. It is not surprising that most magical institutions and centers for learning treat words of power as an archaic art, to be studied along with other historical matters, but not actually practiced. Those who delve into the lore of words of power often find themselves lost in an ancient art that they alone might now know. There is power there, but each wordcaster must find it alone.
If you are a GM and would like to introduce wordspells to your campaign in a limited way, consider providing the PCs with a cache of wordspell potions, scrolls, or wands. This gives the PCs a concrete and limited set of wordspells with which they can experiment, and doesn’t require them to learn the entire system at once. It may be helpful to provide a copy of the rules for the words contained in the item so the player can reference that specific combination. For example, if the PCs discover a scroll of elder cure, give the players the text of the elder cure word so they know exactly how the scroll works.
Once the players are familiar with the system, and they want to experiment with using other wordspells, you can allow spellcaster PCs that are already in the campaign to take the Experimental Spellcaster feat, or a player can start a new wordcaster character.
For a wordcaster, learning new words of power is akin to unlocking the secret laws of reality. Each word represents a new source of power that falls under the wordcaster’s control. Words of power fall into three categories: target words, effect words, and meta words. Wordcasters arrange these words of power to cast powerful and diverse incantations known as wordspells. It should come as no surprise that most wordcasters obsessively learn as many words of power as their minds can comprehend.
Regardless of class, each wordcaster begins play knowing all of the target words—even those that they cannot yet use due to the level restriction—as well as the boost meta word. These words are learned as part of their most basic training. For arcane casters using a spellbook, formula book, or familiar, these words do not have a cost to scribe and take up one page each. In addition to the basic allotment, each wordcaster also begins play knowing a number of effect and meta words equal to the number of spells they would normally be allowed to know at 1st level, and gain additional words at the normal rate. Wordcasters select effect words from the word lists associated with their class. For each class, use the following guidelines.
A wordcaster still has spell slots, just like other members of his class, but he uses them differently. Each spell slot holds a wordspell or allows a wordcaster to arrange a number of words of power into one. The level of the wordcaster’s wordspell is determined by the arrangement of words. Each word of power has a level associated with it and, in some cases, restrictions on what other words can be arranged in a wordspell with it. The level of a word is also the minimum level of the spell slot that can be used to arrange that word into a wordspell.
If a wordcaster belongs to a class that prepares spells, he must arrange his words of power into wordspells when he prepares his spells, deciding in advance the exact combination of words that will occupy each of his available spell slots and the wordspells that arrangement makes. If a wordcaster belongs to a class that spontaneously casts spells, such as a sorcerer, he can arrange his wordspells as he casts them.
Each wordspell is made up of an arrangement of two or more words of power, including one target word, one or more effect words, and possibly a number of meta words.
Casting a wordspell is similar to casting a standard spell. Each wordspell is assumed to have a material, somatic, and verbal component. Divine casters using this system must provide a divine focus instead of a material component. Unless otherwise noted, the material component can easily be found in a spell component pouch.
Wordspells take one standard action to cast and provoke attacks of opportunity as normal unless the caster casts the wordspell defensively. The DC for casting a wordspell defensively is the same as it is for a spell of the same level.
The DC for any saving throw called for by the wordspell is calculated the same way as for any other spell of that level. A wordcaster uses the same ability score to determine her wordspell DC as an ordinary spellcaster of her class.
Casting a wordspell is almost exactly the same as casting an ordinary spell. A wordspell can be dispelled and disrupted, and casting one provokes attacks of opportunity, just like any other spell, unless the wordcaster casts the wordspell on the defensive, which also requires a concentration check as normal. There are two major differences to casting a wordspell: counterspelling and schools.
Counterspelling Wordspells: If a wordcaster is attempting to counter another wordspell, she can make a Spellcraft skill check as normal to identify the wordspell as it is being cast and then cast an identical wordspell to counter it. This means that the opposing wordcaster must know all of the effect words of the wordspell and either have an identical wordspell prepared or have an available spell slot of an equal or higher level. If the wordspell contains multiple effect words, but the opposing caster only knows one of the words (or only has a wordspell with one of the effect words prepared), that caster can still attempt to counter the wordspell, but this functions as if using dispel magic and does not come with the guarantee of success. The opposing caster must make a dispel check to counter the wordspell. She must still expend a spell of the same or higher level containing at least one word of the wordspell to be countered.
If a wordcaster is attempting to counter the spell of a normal spellcaster, she must make a Spellcraft skill check to identify the school of the spell being cast. She can then counter that spell using any wordspell so long as it is of an equal or higher level than the spell being cast and contains at least one effect word of the same school as the spell. This works like a dispel magic counterspell attempt, and the wordcaster must make a dispel check to counter the spell. If a spellcaster attempts to counter a wordspell, she must use a spell of an equal or higher level that is of the same school as one or more of the effect words in the wordspell being cast. This too works like a dispel magic counterspell attempt, and the spellcaster must make a dispel check to counter the wordspell.
Wordspell Schools: If a wordspell has more than one effect word, it can belong to more than one school, although it never benefits from effects based on school (such as Spell Focus) more than once. It can take penalties based on school more than once; for example, if a target has a bonus on saving throws against necromancy and illusion spells, that character would add both bonuses on the saving throw if the wordspell is of both schools.
Wordspell Saving Throws: The type of saving throw for a wordspell is determined by the highest-level effect word used that allows a saving throw. If the save is successful, it applies to both effect words, but the result for each word can vary based on the individual word. If the save fails, the target takes the full effect of both effect words. The save DC is equal to 10 + the wordspell’s level (not the effect word’s level) + the wordcaster’s spellcasting ability score modifier (Intelligence for wizards; Wisdom for clerics, druids, and rangers; and Charisma for bards, paladins, and sorcerers). For example, if a 5th-level wordspell contains a 2nd-level effect word that allows a Reflex save for half and a 4th-level effect word that allows a Will save to negate, targets of the wordspell make a Will save with a DC of 15 + the caster’s ability score modifier. If the save is successful, the target takes half the normal effect from the 2nd-level word and negates the 4th-level word. If the save fails, the target takes the full effect of both effect words.
Wordspells and Spell Resistance: If the wordspell uses more than one effect word, and any of those words allow spell resistance, the resistance applies to all of the effect words of the wordspell. A wordspell only ignores spell resistance if all effect words ignore spell resistance.
Multiple Effect Words and Damage: If more than one effect word causes the wordspell to deal damage, the total number of dice of damage the wordspell can deal can be no greater than the wordspell’s caster level. The caster can decide which dice belong to which effect word, in any combination, so long as the total number does not exceed his wordcaster level and the number of dice allocated to a specific effect word does not exceed its maximum.
Magic Item Creation
It is possible to create magic items using the words of power system, but since the caster meets none of the spell prerequisites, this process is more difficult than the standard method of magic item creation. To avoid all of the penalties associated with not knowing the proper spells, a wordcaster must sacrifice a spell slot of the matching level for each spell required by the item as part of its construction requirements, just as if he were preparing the proper spells. The spells needed must appear on his class’s spell list. Finally, the DC of the check needed to create the item increases by +2 for each spell listed in the requirements that the wordcaster must substitute in this way. A wordcaster can create potions, scrolls, and wands using wordspells. Potions follow the normal rules for potions and cannot contain a wordspell higher than 3rd level. The wordspell must use the selected target word—it targets the drinker of the potion. Potions cannot use meta words. Wands cannot contain wordspells higher than 4th level. Scrolls can hold wordspells of any level. Note that scrolls and wands cannot use meta words other than boost, and can only use boost if it increases the level of the effect words in the wordspell.
Multiple Effect Words and Duration: If a wordspell has more than one effect word, the shortest of all the effect words’ durations is used for all of the effect words.
It is possible to create magic items using the words of power system, but since the caster meets none of the spell prerequisites, this process is more difficult than the standard method of magic item creation. To avoid all of the penalties associated with not knowing the proper spells, a wordcaster must sacrifice a spell slot of the matching level for each spell required by the item as part of its construction requirements, just as if he were preparing the proper spells. The spells needed must appear on his class’s spell list. Finally, the DC of the check needed to create the item increases by +2 for each spell listed in the requirements that the wordcaster must substitute in this way.
A wordcaster can create potions, scrolls, and wands using wordspells. Potions follow the normal rules for potions and cannot contain a wordspell higher than 3rd level. The wordspell must use the selected target word—it targets the drinker of the potion. Potions cannot use meta words.
Wands cannot contain wordspells higher than 4th level. Scrolls can hold wordspells of any level. Note that scrolls and wands cannot use meta words other than boost, and can only use boost if it increases the level of the effect words in the wordspell.
To help explain these rules, the following section includes a number of sample wordspells that could be created using the words of power system.
Burst Fire Blast (magus 3, sorcerer/wizard 3): This simple wordspell does 1d6 points of fire damage per caster level (maximum 10d6) to anything caught in a 10-foot-radius burst. If the wordcaster boosts the target word, this wordspell more closely resembles fireball, dealing damage in a 20-foot-radius burst. The targets receive a Reflex saving throw to halve the damage.
Selected Ice Blast Life Leech (magus 6, sorcerer/wizard 6, witch 6): This wordspell causes the target to take 10d6 points of cold damage and 1d4 temporary negative levels, and to become entangled for 1d4 rounds. The target receives either a Fortitude save or a Reflex save, chosen by the caster. If the save is successful, the target takes half the cold damage, takes no negative levels, and is not entangled. A sorcerer, witch, or wizard can boost the target word to make this spell affect multiple targets, but doing so increases the spell’s overall level to 9th.
Selected Alignment Shield Enhance Form Grave Bane (cleric 6): This wordspell grants the target a number of bonuses. First, it grants the target a +2 bonus to AC and on saving throws when it is attacked by creatures of one alignment type (chosen by the wordcaster). The wordspell also grants a +4 enhancement bonus to Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution (chosen by the wordcaster). Finally, the wordspell grants an additional +4 sacred bonus on saving throws made against death spells and death magic effects; the subject cannot gain negative levels while this wordspell is in effect, and the target is automatically stabilized if brought below 0 hit points. All of these effects last for 1 round per level, as that is the duration of the effect word with the shortest duration. Note that alignment shield is only 1st level, and could be replaced with a 2nd-level effect word without changing the overall level of the spell.
Section 15: Copyright Notice – Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Magic
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Magic. © 2011, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Authors: Jason Bulmahn, Tim Hitchcock, Colin McComb, Rob McCreary, Jason Nelson, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Sean K Reynolds, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Russ Taylor.