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Incantations are like spells, but they can be cast by characters who are not spellcasters. This variant enables characters who know the correct ritual gestures and phrases for an incantation to achieve powerful magic effects. Incantations don't use spell slots, you don't have to prepare them ahead of time, and you can use an incantation an unlimited number of times per day.
Incantations have drawbacks: They're time-consuming to cast, and success isn't assured. They are often expensive, and some require additional participants to complete the ritual. Some incantations work only under certain specific conditions, such as during a full moon.
Most important among the drawbacks, an incantation rarely fades away quietly if the caster fails to perform the ritual correctly. Instead it reverses itself on the caster, explodes with a cascade of energy, or weakens the barries between worlds, enabling hostile outsiders to emerge onto the Material Plane.
This variant gives a measure of magical power to nonspellcasters, but the incantations themselves are usually too specific in effect to increase a character's power in the general sense. Because many incantations require academic skills such as Knowledge, the characters best equipped to cast them are often spellcasters anyway.
Incantations provide a useful way to introduce powerful magical effects in a lower-level game under controlled conditions. PCs will still use spells rather than expensive, risky incantations whenever they can. Incantations are also more specific than spells, so the DM can introduce them into the game without worrying that they'll spread beyond the immediate situation.
If you want characters in your low-level game to take a brief sojourn to Ysgard, you can introduce the incantation Hrothgar's journey. Because it requires the construction of a thatched hut in the middle of the forest and works only during the winter solstice, you don't have to worry about the characters exploring the Outer Planes whenever they get the urge. If you gave low-level PCs easy access to the plane shift spell, on the other hand, they could wander the planes until they ran afoul of the first outsider more powerful than they are (which is almost any outsider).
Obscure tomes and spellbooks filled with mystical ramblings, descriptions of magic theory, ordinary arcane spells, and utterly useless or incomprehensible magical writing often hide the instructions for performing incantations. In those dusty volumes, diligent readers can find incantations with real power- magical recipes that provide step-by-step instructions for achieving a powerful effect.
If the characters have access to a well-stocked library of magical information, finding a set of instructions for a particular incantation requires a successful Knowledge (arcana) check with a DC 10 lower than the DC for castingthe incantation. Just being aware of the existence of a particular incantation requires a Knowledge (arcana) check with a DC 15 lower than the incantation's casting DC.
Casting an Incantation
At its simplest, casting an incantation is akin to preparing and cooking something according to a recipe. You must have the ingredients in hand, then use your skill in cooking to perform each step in order. In game terms, this means having the required incantation components, then succeeding on a number of skill checks- often Knowledge (arcana) checks- during the incantation's casting time.
Each incantation description tells how many successful skill checks are required to cast the incantation. Unless otherwise specified, the caster makes skill checks involving more than one skill check every 10 minutes. If checks involving more than one skill are required, the checks may be made in any order, as desired by the caster. Failing one skill check means that 10 minutes have gone by, and the incantation is in danger of failing. If two skill checks in a row are failed, the incantation fails. Each incantation has a consequence associated with failure. Even if the incantation fails, the casting still consumes all the components (including expensive material components and experience points).
Because of the unusual outcomes possible on a failure, the DM may choose to make these skill checks in secret. Doing this prevents the player of the caster from knowing whether an incantation has succeeded or failed. If the consequence of failure is immediate and severe (such as death resulting from a failed fires of Dis incantation), the effect is obvious, and concealing it serves no purpose.
Many incantations have a backlash component, which is an ill effect suffered by the caster at the conclusion of the casting or upon failure of the incantation (see Backlash, below).
Saves and Spell Resistance
If an incantation allows a save, the formula to calculate the save is included in the incantation's description. For checks to overcome spell resistance, divide the incantation's skill check DC by 2 to get the effective caster level for the spell resistance check. For example, the caster of a fires of Dis incantation (DC 23) would add +11 to a d20 roll when attempting to ivercome the spell resistance of the target.
Incantations take a long time to cast, but they aren't as delicate and exacting as traditional spells. Casting an incantation does not provoke an attack of opportunity, and a caster can even pause the ritual for a short time in order to fight, cast a spell, or take some other action. For each round the incantation is interrupted, the DC of all subsequent skill checks to complete the castin increases by 1. Time spent during the interruption of an incantation does not count toward the incantation's casting time.
As long as the caster of an incantation is not threathened or distracted, he may take 10. Incantations with backlash components or similarly harmful aspects count as threats that prevent the caster from taking 10. A caster may never take 20 when attempting to complete an incantation.
Most incantations require components not unlike those of spells, including verbal, somatic, focus, and material components. In addition, some require secondary casters (abbreviated SC in the Component line of a description), or cause some sort of backlash (abbreviated B), or cost the caster some amount of experience points (abbreviated XP).
Some incantations require multiple participants to have any hope of succeeding. The secondary casters are indispensable to the success of the incantation. However, no matter how many people are gathered in the dark room, chanting with candles, only one character- most commonly the one with the highest modifier in the relevant skill- is the primary caster who makes the relevant checks. Secondary casters can't help the primary caster succeed by means of the aid another action, but their presence is required for certain aspects of the ritual nonetheless.
Often, an incantation is hosted with more than the minimum number of casters. If the primary caster or a secondary caster is killed or disabled, one of these bystanders can step into a role.
If an incantation requires a check involving a skill other than Knowledge (arcana), any secondary caster can make that check if he or she has a higher skill modifier than the primary caster. Casters who favor the Hrothgar's journey incantation, for example, keep bards on hand if they aren't highly skilled in Perform (oratory) themselves.
Some incantations damage or drain the caster in some way when they are cast. They have a backlash component: damage, negative levels, or some other effect. The caster experiences the backlash effect regardless of the success or failure of the incantation.
When two skill checks in a row result in failure (whether or not they're made by the same character), the incantation as a whole fails. The character who failed the second check experiences the effect indicated in the inantation's description. In general, the consequences of failure can be divided into the following categories (Many of these effects are not mentioned in the sample incantations that follow; they are provided here for use in incantations that could be developed for a campaign.)
Attack: A creature is called from elsewhere to battle the caster (and often any bystanders and secondary casters). This incantation's description tells the DM what Challenge Rating the creature should have, how it behaves, and how long it persists.
Augment: The incantation was supposed to weaken or destroy its target, but it makes the target more powerful instead. An incantation that deals damage might heal its target or cause it to grow in power, for example.
Betrayal: The incantation seemingly succeeds, but the subject of the incantation (or, in rare cases, the caster) undergoes a dramatic alignment change. Over the next 1d6 minutes, the subject's alignment becomes the extreme opposite of what it was previously (for instance, lawful good becomes chaotic evil, or chaotic neutral becomes lawful neutral; a neutral subject randomly becomes lawful good, lawful evil, chaotic good, or chaotic evil). The subject generally tries to keep its new outlook a secret.
Damage: Either the caster or the target takes damage as the consequence of failure.
Death: Someone- usually the caster or the target- dies. Some incantations allow a saving throw to avoid this consequence of failure.
Delusion: The caster believes the incantation had the desired effect, but in fact it had no effect or a very different one.
Falsehood: The incantation (typically a divination) delivers false results to the caster, but the caster believes the results are true.
Hostile Spell: The caster of the incantation is targeted by a harmful spell. The incantation description gives the specific spell, save DC, and other particulars.
Mirrorcast: The incantation has the opposite effect of what was intended.
Reversal: The incantation affects the caster rather than the intended target.
The following incantations are among the better-known incantations in existence- which means that no more than a few eldritch scholars know about them. Characters can learn of their existence during the course of an adventure by making a Knowledge (arcana) check (see Discovering Incantations, above).
Creating New Incantations
Making unique incantations for your campaign is a tricky balancing act. Incantations are intentionally constructed to be much more idiosyncratic than spells are. And because incantations hinge on skill checks, it's possible for a character to get access to powerful magic before he- or the campaign- is ready for it. The following guidelines will help you balance the benefit of an incantation with its negative aspects, and also determine how difficult the incantation is to cast.
1. Determine School: When you design an incantation, first decide which school or schools the incantation would fit into if it were a spell. Each school has a specific DC, which serves as the base skill check DC for the incantation you're designing. Consult the descriptions of the schools of magic in chapter 10 of the Player's Handbook if you aren't sure which school an incantation should belong to. If you're designing an incantation that could qualify for more than one school, choose the most important one to provide the base DC. Other schools add one-third their DC to the total. For example, the fires of Dis incantation has conjuration as its most important school (because of the pit fiend it calls) and evocation as a second school (because of the fiery burst it creates). Thus, the fires of Dis incantation has a base DC of 41 (30 + 11) for all skill checks made during its casting.
Each summary below specifies the range, target, duration, and other aspects of an incantation associated with a particular school.
Abjuration: DC 32; Range: Close; Target: One or more creatures, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart; Duration: Mintes; Saving Throw: Will negates; Spell Resistance: Yes.
Conjuration: DC 30; Range: Close; Target: One creature; Duration: Hours(Instantaneous for teleportation subschool); Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless).
Divination: DC 30; Range: Long; Target: Personal; Duration: Minutes; Saving Throw: None; Spell Resistance: No.
Enchantment: DC 32; Range: Close; Target: One living creature; Duration: Minutes; Saving Throw: Will negates; Spell Resistance: Yes.
Evocation: DC 34; Range: Medium; Area: 5-ft. -wide bolt or 20-ft.-radius burst; Duration: Instantaneous; Saving Throw: Reflex half; Spell Resistance: Yes.
Illusion: DC 32; Range: Touch; Target: One living creature or 20 cu. ft. of matter; Duration: Minutes; Saving Throw: Will disbelief; Spell Resistance: No.
Necromancy: DC 34; Range: Close; Target: One or more creatures or corpses; Duration: Instantaneous; Saving Throw: None; Spell Resistance: No.
Transmutation: DC 32; Range: Medium; Target: One creature or 20 cu. ft. of matter; Duration: Rounds; Saving Throw: Fortitude half (often harmless); Spell Resistance: Yes.
2. Modify DC: Next, determine modifications to the base DC based on the specifics of your ritual; see the table below for a list of general factors and how they can change the skill check DC. Increasing the base range of an incantation, for example, is a factor that increases the DC. Reducing the duration of an incantation, on the other hand, is a factor that reduces the DC.
3. Set Level: Finally, set the effective level of the incantation. Incantations are like 6th- through 9th- level spells, so you can set the effective level of the incantation by comparing what the incantation does to what spells of that level can accomplish. The effective level determines a number of aspects of the incantation: how many total successes are required, the exact save DC of the incantation, and sometimes the incantation's precise range and duration.
Total Successes: Equal to the incantation's effective level.
Save DC: 10 + incantation's effective level + caster's Cha modifier.
Duration and Range: Assume a caster level of twice the incantation's level, using the same formula a spell would. For example, an incantation with a duration of "minutes" would last 12 minutes if it's effectively a 6th level spell. The same incantation with a range of medium can affect a target up to 220 feet away.
|Factor||Check DC Modifier|
|Requires checks involving more than one skill||-1|
|Requires a skill not on wizard class skill list||-1|
|1 hour between checks||-1|
|Casting time is restricted (only during full moon, for example)||-4|
|Casting time is severely restricted (only during lunar eclipse, for example||-8|
|Touch to close/close to touch||+2/-2|
|Close to medium/medium to close||+2/-2|
|Medium to long/long to medium||+2/-2|
|Doubling area/halving area||+3/-3|
|Unwilling target must be helpless||-2|
|Limited targets (by HD, creature type, and so on)||-3|
|Single target to multiple targets||+4|
|Rounds to minutes/minutes to rounds||+2/-2|
|Minutes to hours/hours to minutes||+4/-2|
|Hours to days/days to hours||+6/-2|
|Days to permanent or instantaneous/permanent or instantaneous to days||+10/-4|
|Focus and Material Components|
|Expensive material component (500 gp)||-1|
|Expensive material component (5,000 gp)||-2|
|Expensive material component (25,000 gp)||-4|
|Expensive focus (5,000 gp)||-1|
|Expensive focus (25,000) gp||-2|
|Per 100 XP (max 1,000 XP)||-1|
|10 or fewer secondary casters||-2|
|11-100 secondary casters||-6|
|101 or more secondary casters||-10|
|Per 2d6 points of damage||-1|
|Caster is exhausted||-2|
|Per negative level caster gains||-2|
|Caster reduced to -1 hp||-3|
|Caster infected with disease||-4|
|Backlash affects secondary casters too||-1|
Behind the Curtain: Creating Incantations
It's important to realize that this system for creating incantations is a starting point, not the last word. Anytime you apply multiple modifiers to a single DC, the potential for acceidental consequences or intentional abuse is there.
To keep incantations under control in your own campaign, avoid creating incantations with skill check DCs lower than 20. Furthermore, you should emphasize how much faster, easier, and safer spells are than incantations. Every incantation you create should have at least one component that's difficult for the caster to deal with, such as an XP cost, an expensive material component, or a significant backlash component. Because incantations don't require spell slots- or even spellcasting ability- you need to make sure that characters can't simply cast incantations repeatedly, stopping only to sleep.
Incantations are most effective when they're specific; they should always be more narrowly focused than spells that accomplish similar tasks. The planar binding spell, for example, can trap and compel service from any elemental or outsider with 12 HD or less. A comparable incantation, Xecilgarasp among the bones, would call one specific bebilith named Xecilgarasp for a specific job: guarding a tomb. If ordered to do anything else, Xecilgarasp attacks the caster instead. And if Xecilgarasp ever dies while guarding a tomb, the incantation is thereafter useless. The Xecilgarasp among the bones incantation is just as powerful as the planar binding spell in the specific instance it was designed for, but it has limited or no utility beyond that.