Incantations - Experimental
Sourced from The Hypertext d20 SRD noted as licensed for public use under the terms of the Open Game License v1.0a.
- 1 Incantations
- 2 Metagame Analysis: Creating Incantations
- 3 Discovering Incantations
- 4 Casting An Incantation
- 5 Sample Incantations
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 magical energy, or weakens the barrier 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 GM 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 a 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).
Metagame Analysis: Creating Incantations
It’s important to realize that this system for creating incantations is meant as a starting point, not the last word. Anytime you apply multiple modifiers to a single DC, the potential for accidental consequences or intentional abuse is there.
To keep incantations under control in your 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.
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 casting the 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 a 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 GM 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 overcome 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 casting 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 threatened 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 Components 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. These 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 incantation’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). The incantation’s description tells the GM 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 incantastion has the opposite effect of what was intended.
Reversal The incantation affects the caster rather than the intended target.
General Factors for Incantations
|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)
| Casting time is severely restricted
(only during lunar eclipse, for example)
|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
|Focus and Material Components|
|Expensive material component (500 gp)||-1|
|Expensive material component (5,000 gp)||-2|
|Expensive material component (25,000 gp)||-3|
|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|
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).
Call Forth the Dweller
Skill Check:Knowledge (arcana) DC 20, 6 successes
Components:V, S, M, F, XP,
Casting Time:60 minutes
This incantation contacts the enigmatic, extradimensional being known as the Dweller on the Threshold, an entity that imparts knowledge about its specific obsession: doors and other entrances.
To cast call forth the Dweller, the caster must inscribe forty-two mystic symbols around an open doorway, then begin the chants and supplications required for the incantation.
If the incantation succeeds, an image of the Dweller—an inky mass of tentacles and mouths—appears on the other side of the doorway. The Dweller on the Threshold truthfully answers any questions it is asked about a particular door. For example, the Dweller can provide a magical password that unlocks a door, indicate how to disarm a trap on a door, reveal the weaknesses of a door’s guardian, or describe the room that lies beyond the door. Its answers are clear and fairly specific, if somewhat terse. The caster may well appreciate such concise answers, because one of the forty-two symbols inscribed around the doorway during the casting of the incantation fades away with each word the Dweller on the Threshold speaks—and when all the symbols are gone, the Dweller disappears.
If the caster asks the Dweller on the Threshold a question that doesn’t involve doors, the Dweller responds with a cutting insult, often about something the caster thought was secret. Each word of the insult likewise makes a symbol disappear from the perimeter of the doorway.
The exact nature of the Dweller on the Threshold is shrouded in mystery. Some contend that it is somehow connected to the god of secrets, although no one has ever found conclusive evidence that the Dweller on the Threshold is evil.
If the doorway used as the focus is one that the Dweller has been asked about in the past, the caster gains a +4 bonus on the Knowledge (arcana) checks during the incantation. For example, if Boredflak uses call forth the Dweller to learn about the Gateway to Despair, then when he reaches the Gateway, he can use the Gateway as the focus and gain a +4 bonus when he uses the incantation to ask about the Arches of Certain Doom.
If the caster fails two consecutive Knowledge (arcana) checks, the Dweller on the Threshold gleefully lies, employing falsehoods that demonstrate its inclination toward mischief and cruelty.
Forty-two mystic symbols inscribed around the perimeter of the focus doorway (requiring materials costing 500 gp). As described above, these symbols gradually disappear during the time the incantation is in effect.
An open doorway large enough to allow a Medium creature to pass through it.
After speaking with the Dweller on the Threshold, the caster is exhausted.
This incantation is an obvious solution for characters who are “stuck” by an especially impenetrable door. The exhaustion backlash makes it less likely they immediately try the door after casting the incantation, and the XP cost ensures that they won’t try to use call forth the Dweller on every door they face. If you introduce this incantation in your game, you’re giving the PCs occasional access to a powerful divination. But because it’s rather specific, it doesn’t make the characters more powerful. Typically, getting through a door lands PCs in trouble more quickly than if they were unable to pass the portal.
Fires of Dis
Effective Level: 6th
Skill Check: Knowledge (arcana) DC 23, 6 successes; Knowledge (religion) DC 23, 2 successes; Knowledge (the planes) DC 23, 1 success
Components: V, S, M, XP, SC, B
Casting Time: 90 minutes
Effect: 80-ft.-radius burst centered on caster
Saving Throw: Reflex half (DC 19 + caster’s Cha modifier)
Spell Resistance: Yes
This incantation, dreamed up by insane cultists, opens a fell rift between the Material Plane and Dis, the fiery second layer of the Nine Hells. This rift brings about a massive conflagration that destroys almost everything in the immediate area, then releases a powerful devil who capers over the smoldering ruins and begins to rampage across the countryside. The fires of Dis ignite everything they touch—except for the caster, who is transported to Dis as the result of the incantation’s backlash.
When the incantation is complete, the fires of Dis fill an 80-foot-radius spread around the caster’s former location, dealing 18d6 points of fire damage (Reflex half) to all creatures and objects. Additionally, everything flammable in that radius is now on fire (as described in Catching on Fire).
In the following round, a pit fiend comes through the rift, which then closes. The creature begins to destroy everything in sight.
Death of the character who failed the second consecutive skill check.
Rare unguents and dark alchemical concoctions worth 5,000 gp.
The caster is knocked unconscious and transported to Dis (no save).
Six required; they chant choruses and supplications to various dark deities throughout the incantation.
Obviously, the backlash component is significant enough that most PCs will not seriously consider casting this incantation. But even a low- to mid-level character has a decent chance of making all the skill checks without failing twice in a row, so the incantation could show up in a campaign in a number of different circumstances. For instance, the PCs may be tipped off that suicidal cultists are trying to bring the fires of Dis to their city, and they have to disrupt the incantation. The fires of Dis might also have a place in a mystery adventure, where the PCs must discover who stole rare alchemical compounds. A routine investigation takes on new urgency when the PCs find out that the missing vials can be the material component for a fires of Dis incantation.
Effective Level: 6th
Skill Check: Knowledge (arcana) DC 20, 2 successes; Perform (oratory) DC 20, 4 successes
Failure: 5d6 points of fire damage to caster
Components: V, S, M, SC, B
Casting Time: 60 minutes
Target or Targets: Caster plus four to twelve other creatures
Saving Throw: Will negates (harmless) (DC 16 + caster’s Cha modifier)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)
Hrothgar’s journey is an incantation based on the tale of Hrothgar, a powerful barbarian hero from ages past. When the poetic epic of Hrothgar is recited in the stifling heat of a sweat lodge during the winter solstice, the orator and his listeners receive the same final reward that Hrothgar did: a one-way trip to Ysgard’s plain of Ida, where they can drink and make merry with the greatest warriors of myth.
To cast the incantation, the caster must construct a small, windowless hut in the middle of the forest, then build a bonfire in the hut’s center. At least four and up to twelve others accompany the caster into the hut. Then the flames are lit and the telling of the tale of Hrothgar begins.
Because the bonfire is large and the hut is small, the atmosphere inside quickly gets stiflingly hot. This is the incantation’s backlash; unlike most backlash components, it affects the incantation’s other targets as well as the caster. Any creature inside the hut must make a Fortitude save every 10 minutes or suffer the effects of severe heat (as described in Heat Dangers).
Just as the tale of Hrothgar approaches its conclusion (near the end of the casting time), the bonfire’s flames light the hut on fire, which creates a great deal of smoke but no additional heat or damage. If the final skill check succeeds, the flames consume the hut’s roof and walls, revealing the plain of Ida on the plane of Asgard.
A windowless, thatched hut in a forest.
Four required; they provide the dialogue for other characters in the epic of Hrothgar.
Hrothgar’s journey is well within the reach of mid-level PCs, especially bards. Of all the Outer Planes, Ysgard is perhaps the most hospitable to PCs and the easiest to work into an ongoing campaign, so the incantation may be a good way to whet the players’ appetite for planar travel without opening up the entire cosmology. In the hands of NPCs, Hrothgar’s journey can be an escape route for the barbarian raiders the characters have been chasing for months. Or a mischievous NPC bard can beckon the PCs into a warm hut on a cold winter’s night, promising them a wondrous reward if they just listen to a tale…