Adventures in Anterra
Design Corner: Are Incantations Magic?
Ritual magic is certainly one aspect of incantations, but not all incantations need to be arcane or divine in nature—or even necessarily magic. They are, after all, primarily based on skill checks, so they can easily accommodate a variety of alternate effects that are no less
wondrous. For instance, the forbidden techniques of forgotten monks that utilize pressure points, the convoluted schemata of mystical engineers detailing clockwork machines, and the subtle songs and speeches of famous bards are all easily emulated with incantations.
Whether they’re channeling magic, ki, physical principles, or force of will alone, you simply need to utilize different skills.
“Performing an Incantation Incantations are ritual. You must have the required components to perform them successfully. Then, you must succeed on a number of skill checks. Though the exact requirements for different incantations can vary greatly, there are some general guidelines: Each incantation’s description details how many successful skill checks are required to cast it. Unless otherwise specified, you make a skill check every 10 minutes.❖
If a skill that normally has a parenthetical component is presented without it, such as
Perform, any variety of that skill can be used. Unless a sequence is specified, when checks
involving more than one skill are required, they may be made in any order. Failing one skill check means that 10 minutes elapsed, and the incantation is in danger of failing. Two consecutive unsuccessful skill checks means the incantation fails. Even if the incantation fails, the performance still consumes all material components. Most incantations have a backlash that affects you upon the conclusion of the ritual whether the incantation was successful or not (see Backlash, below). Every incantation has consequences associated with failure.
Interrupting Incantations. Incantations take a long time to perform, but they aren’t as delicate and exacting as spells. You don’t provoke attacks of opportunity while performing them, and you can even pause the ritual for a short time in order to fight, cast spells, or take other actions. However, for each round the incantation is interrupted, the DC of all subsequent skill checks to complete the performance increases by 1. Time spent during the interruption of an incantation does not count toward it’s casting time.
Saving Throws. If an incantation allows a save, the formula to calculate the save is included
in the incantation’s description.
Spell Resistance. When making caster level (CL) checks to overcome spell resistance
(SR), divide the incantation’s skill check DC by 2 to find its effective CL. (For opposed checks, use the default DC for the incantation’s school modified by any bonuses or penalties listed in the incantation for the opponent’s roll. Divide this value by 2.) Use this value even if you are a spellcaster. The incantation is the power, and you are simply the conduit.
Taking 10. As long as you are not threatened or distracted, you may take 10. However, incantations with backlash components or similarly harmful aspects count as threats, preventing you from taking 10. You may never take 20 when attempting to complete an
Skill Checks Often, an incantation’s required skill checks can be performed in any order. Occasionally, however, a particular sequence is required either in total or in part. In this case, the required skill checks will be labeled with “in order” in the incantation description. Any of the checks listed after this label must be performed in the same sequence listed; any listed before this label may be performed in any order either before or after the entirety of the sequenced checks. For example, in the case of “Skill Checks Knowledge (arcana) DC 20, 1 success; in order— Sense Motive DC 20, 1 success; Bluff DC 20, 3 successes; Survival DC 20, 3 successes,” you must make 1 Sense Motive check, followed by 3 Bluff checks, and then by 3 Survival checks. However, the lone Knowledge (arcana) check may be performed either before the Sense Motive check or after the last Survival check.
Incantation Components Most incantations require some variety of components, such as focus, material, somatic, and verbal components. In addition, some require secondary performers (abbreviated SP in an incantation’s description).
Secondary Performers (or Secondary Casters). Incantations often require multiple participants to successfully complete them. However, only one participant can be the primary performer. Secondary performers can make skill checks in place of the primary performer. However, performers cannot use the aid another action to assist in required skill checks. Incantations can be performed with more performers than necessary, so if certain
participants cannot continue, others can replace them.
Backlash When performing an incantation, you and other performers are often adversely affected, even if not the incantation’s primary targets. This is a backlash and may consist of damage, negative levels, or some other effect. You experience a backlash regardless of the success or failure of the incantation.
Failed Incantations If two consecutive skill checks are unsuccessful— even if made by different performers—the incantation fails. If an effect is listed in an incantation’s description specifically for failure, it targets the performer that failed the second check (in addition to a possible backlash). There are many possibilities for the consequences of failure. These are just a few. (The incantation’s description provides any additional necessary details.)
Attack. A summoned creature attacks you— and likely everyone else nearby.
Augment. Instead of destroying the target as it was supposed to, the incantation makes the target more powerful.
Betrayal. Though the incantation seems to succeed, the subject of the incantation—or even
you—actually undergoes a dramatic alignment change. For 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. You or the target takes damage as the consequence of failure.
Death. Someone dies. This is usually you or the target. Some incantations allow a saving throw to avoid this consequence of failure.
Delusion. You believe the incantation worked, but actually, it had no effect—or a very different one from that intended.
Falsehood. The incantation (typically a divination) provides you with false results, but
you believe it is true.
Hostile Spell. You are targeted by a harmful spell, specified in the incantation’s description.
Mirrorcast. The incantation has the opposite effect of what was intended.
Reversal. The incantation affects you rather than the intended target.
Design Corner: Creating Incantations
These guidelines for creating incantations should be used with care. They are a starting point only. Good judgment should be used to evaluate all new incantations. Anytime you apply multiple modifiers to a single difficulty check (DC), the potential arises for accidental consequences or intentional abuse. To prevent them from being misused in your campaign, avoid creating incantations with skill check DCs lower than 20 (with the exception of lesser
incantations). Keep in mind, however, that spells are generally easier, faster, and safer than incantations, so if you make them too difficult to succeed at, players won’t use them. In some campaigns, incantations may be exceedingly rare and difficult, which means characters will rely primarily on spells. In other campaigns, incantations may be the dominant or sole option. Each incantation should have at least one aspect that’s difficult to deal with, such as an expensive material component or a significant backlash. There should always be some significant cost or risk. An incantation’s purpose is typically very specific, such as when contacting a unique, named entity (as opposed to a random one). Each incantation could be a mini-adventure all its own. Using them should feel like a big deal.
Creating New Incantations – Creating new incantations is a tricky balancing act. Incantations
are intentionally constructed to be much more idiosyncratic than spells are, and because they hinge on skill checks, it’s possible for characters to access powerful magic before they—or the campaign—are ready for it. These guidelines will help you build balanced
Determine School – When creating an incantation, first decide which school or schools it would fit into if it were a spell. Each of the schools has a specific DC associated with it that serves as the base skill check DC. If you’re unsure which school is most appropriate,
compare the effects with existing spells. For incantations with multiple schools, choose
the most important one to determine the incantation’s base DC. Those additional schools,
however, add 1/3 of their DC to the total DC.
Each summary below specifies the range, target, duration, and other aspects of an incantation associated with a particular school.
Abjuration—Skill Check DC 32; Range close; Target one or more creatures, no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will negates; SR yes
Conjuration—Skill Check DC 30; Range close; Target one creature; Duration hours (instantaneous for teleportation subschool); Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); SR yes
Divination—Skill Check DC 30; Range long; Target personal; Duration minutes; Saving Throw none; SR no Enchantment—Skill Check DC 32; Range close; Target one living creature; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will negates; SR yes
Evocation—Skill Check DC 34; Range medium; Area 5-ft.-wide bolt or 20-ft.-radius burst; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw Reflex half; SR yes Illusion—Skill Check DC 32; Range
touch; Target one living creature or 20 cubic ft. of matter; Duration minutes; Saving Throw Will disbelief; SR no
Necromancy—Skill Check DC 34; Range close; Target one or more creatures or corpses; Duration instantaneous; Saving Throw none; SR no
Transmutation—Skill Check DC 32; Range medium; Target one creature or 20 cubic ft. of matter; Duration rounds; Saving Throw Fortitude half (or harmless); SR yes
For the next step, determine what adjustments, if any, are required of the base DC, factoring in the specifics of your incantation (see Table 1: Modifying Incantations for a list of how certain factors change the skill check DC). For example, increasing the incantation’s
range would also increase the DC while reducing its duration would reduce the DC. Use this list as a guideline for modifications that aren’t listed, such as new backlash effects.
Table 1: Modifying Incantations
Factors Check DC Modifier
Requires checks involving more -1
than one skill
1 hour between checks -1
Casting time is restricted (such as, -4
only during full moon)
Casting time is severely restricted -8
(such as, only during lunar eclipse)
Focus and Material Components -1
-Expensive material component
-Expensive material component -2
Expensive material component -4
Expensive focus (5,000 gp) -1
Expensive focus (25,000 gp) -2
10 or fewer secondary performers -2
11-100 secondary performers -6
101 or more secondary performers -10
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)
Single target to multiple targets +4
Rounds to minutes/minutes to
Minutes to hours/hours to minutes +4/-2
Hours to days/days to hours +6/-2
Days to permanent or
instantaneous to days
None (or harmless) to save partial/
save partial to none (or harmless)
Save partial to save negates/save
negates to save partial
Yes to no (or harmless)/no (or
harmless) to yes
Per 2d6 points of damage -1
Performer is exhausted -2
Per negative level performer gains -2
Performer reduced to -1 hp -3
Performer infected with disease -4
Backlash affects secondary
Per incantation effective level less
Finally, set the effective level of the incantation.
Incantations are comparable to spells levels 6-9,
so set the effective level of the incantation to that
of a similar spell. This effective level determines a
number of aspects of the incantation, such as how
many total successes are required, save DCs, and
sometimes its range and duration.
Total Successes. Equal to the incantation’s
Save DC. 10 + incantation’s effective level +
your Charisma modifier.
Duration and Range. These details are
often specified in an incantation’s description. If
not, assume a CL of twice the incantation’s level
and use the same formula a similar 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 ft. away.
If incantations are comparable to spell levels 6-9,
then lesser incantations are comparable to spell
levels 1-5. Lesser incantations are built the same
way as standard incantations with the exception
that, for each level they are less than 6th level, you
apply a -2 adjustment to the starting DC.
For instance, let’s say you want to make a lesser
incantation that mimics summon monster I. Your
starting DC would be 30 (for conjuration school).
From there, the default values match those of
the spell except for duration, and modifying the
duration from hours to rounds grants us a -4
adjustment to the DC for a DC 24. Because this
would be a 1st-level lesser incantation, we also
make a -10 adjustment (-2 adjustment for each
of 5 levels) for a DC 14. Now we have a lesser
incantation that does the exact same thing as
summon monster I, except anyone can perform
it, it takes 10 minutes to complete, and it has a
chance of failure. There’s probably not many that
will get excited over that, but it gives us a baseline.
Now, you can go back to increase the duration and
provide some sort of cost or backlash (modifying
the DC as you go). In a short time, you might
have a flavorful lesser incantation that summons
a specific, awakened dog that agrees to track
someone for you in return for a favor.
While incantations shouldn’t have DCs less than
20, lesser incantations often do. The minimum DC
for a lesser incantation is 8 + (2 x level of lesser
incantation): that is DC 10 for 1st level, DC 12 for
2nd level, DC 14 for 3rd level, DC 16 for 4th level,
and DC 18 for 5th level.
Some incantations and lesser incantations use
opposed ability or skill checks instead of checks
with static DCs. Creating these is almost identical
to creating those with static DCs. You still choose
the school, using the same default values: however,
replace the starting DC in this case with an
opposed check, perhaps Bluff vs. Sense Motive.
Now, when you modify your incantation or lesser
incantation, instead of applying adjustments to
a static DC, you apply adjustments to the target’s
For example, let’s stick with our Bluff vs. Sense
Motive opposed check for an incantation of the
enchantment school. If you increase the default
duration from minutes to hours, you would then
apply a +4 adjustment to the target’s check result:
it would be your Bluff result vs. the target’s Sense
Motive result +4. If you, instead, reduced the
duration from minutes to rounds, you would apply
a -2 adjustment to the target’s Sense Motive check.
In an incantation description, using the current
example, an opposed check would be designated
“Bluff vs. Sense Motive +4.” The skill or other
quantity that you use is the first listed, or Bluff
in this case. The one you’re opposing, whether
against a hostile target or a summoned creature,
uses the second skill or other quantity listed, in
this case Sense Motive. Any modifier listed for
you or your opponent is applied to the respective
Here are just a few sample incantations.
You plunge your hands into the open abdomen of the corpse
laid out in front of you. You slowly work the medium—the
blood and innards—making sickening squelching noises the
entire time. It is only as you finish, when the creature opens
its eyes and stares up at you, its master, that the full reality of
what you’ve done becomes apparent.
School necromancy; Effective Level 3rd
Skill Checks Heal DC 20, 2 successes; Spellcraft DC
20, 1 success
Casting Time 30 minutes
Components M, S
Material Components—corpse of sentient creature,
recently deceased (within 2 weeks of death); exotic
unguents for preparing corpse (worth at least 500 gp)
Target dead creature touched
Saving Throw none; SR no
You create a homunculus.
With a fresh corpse in hand, you begin the work
of molding some of its flesh and organs into your
homunculus. Slowly, the tiny form takes shape,
and with luck, it begins to take on a life of its own
as it pulls away from your sticky hands and corpse
The creature is a homunculus (see Pathfinder
Roleplaying Game Bestiary). You supply the
creature’s vitality with your own blood (or 1d10 of
its total 2d10 hp). You are its creator, possessing
the standard bond between homunculus and
A secondary Craft (sculpture) skill check is
required to determine how well crafted the
homunculus is. (This check doesn’t affect the
actual success or failure of this lesser incantation,
simply the quality of the homunculus.)
9 or lower The homunculus is poorly
shaped, possessing ugly
deformities and no wings (or
useless wings). It cannot fly.
10-19 The homunculus is
appropriately formed. It can fly.
20 or higher The homunculus is expertly
crafted. It appears as a
tiny replica of whatever or
whomever you wish: perhaps
of yourself or another
Half of the total hp of the homunculus, or 1d10 hp,
are permanently drained from you to fuel the tiny,
necrotic construct. You cannot heal this damage
unless the homunculus is destroyed.
If you fail two consecutive skill checks, the
homunculus animates as normal, but you are not
its master. You still suffer the backlash, fueling
the creature, and you still develop a telepathic link
with it, but you cannot control it. It makes its own
choices. You do not realize the failure until the
homunculus says or does something to clue you
in: it may threaten you, attack you, run away, or
something else as appropriate.
The homunculus resents you for dredging it into
existence, and it wants to ruin you for it. It may
attempt to do so openly or secretly. It may even
play along, feigning that it’s under your control,
but you never actually control it.
Emissary of the Old Stone
You ramble on with the prescribed litany of courtesies. On
and on, you’re not sure if you’ll collapse from exhaustion
or boredom first. But eventually, the periodic and equally
rambling gravelly responses seem satisfied, meaning the
emissary has deigned to hear you out. Now, you just have to
try to coax the information out of it.
School conjuration (calling) [earth]; Effective Level
Skill Checks Diplomacy vs. Diplomacy -4, 6
Casting Time 6 hours
Components M, S, V (must speak Terran)
Material Components—the name of a designated
emissary; precious gems and minerals as gift (worth
at least 2,000 gp)
Range close (40 ft.)
Target one called creature
Duration see text
Saving Throw none; SR no
You call a specific earth elemental from the
ancient realms of stone, buried far below the
With the name of a designated emissary on
your lips, you beseech the earth for assistance.
However, the slow, deliberate mind of dirt and
rock demands delicacy. You must negotiate
with the emissary, honoring the rich traditions
and following the tedious protocol. Only with
successful negotiations can you hope to appease
You summon a large earth elemental (see
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary) and must
negotiate with it. With successful negotiations, the
emissary will become a willing and considerate
guide for you and your party.
While a guide, the emissary will travel with
you for a designated time (see below). Though
it is travelling with you, you must still negotiate
for any information or specific action. This is
accomplished by making requests using the
Diplomacy skill (see Pathfinder Roleplaying
Game). The emissary will defend itself, but it will
not otherwise enter combat without a successful
request. The emissary is bound by custom to
travel with you and assist in good faith as it can
(according to the rules of Diplomacy), but it is not
under your control.
The values of the initial 6 opposed Diplomacy
checks have bearing on the incantation’s effects,
so keep track of them. It is the amounts that
you won or lost by that are important. If you
succeeded in negotiations, determine the greatest
value that you won by: that is, subtract your
opponent’s result from yours for each success and
record the highest value. This determines the
incantation’s duration. Alternately, if you lost, do
the same for each lost check. This determines the
extent of failure.
Won by… Emissary stays for…
4 or less 1 hour
5-9 2 hours
10-14 3 hours
15 or higher 4 hours
Lost by… Result
9 or less Failure
10 or more Failure, and emissary attacks
Those of the air realms are offended by your
entreaties to the earth. Creatures with the air
descriptor are hostile toward you.
If you fail two consecutive skill checks, you
insult the emissary. If all of your failed checks
missed by 9 or less, the emissary departs and
you are considered hostile to the lands of stone.
Any creature with the earth descriptor that you
encounter from now on is hostile toward you. At
the GMs discretion, the very land may become
hostile toward you, such as by occasionally
altering terrain to your detriment and other
If any of your failed checks was failed by 10 or
more, the emissary also attacks you.
You can redeem a previous failure by
performing this incantation again, but each
performance after a failure doubles the cost and
provides an additional +2 to your opponent’s
opposed Diplomacy checks.
Reaping the Whirlwind
The windmill looms behind, its great sails motionless in the
still air. Invoking the wind, you begin to recite the ancient
rhyme, stirring the sky. Darker and darker clouds gather
above as you find yourself taking the first slow, tentative
dancing steps in sync with the chant. Amid the increasingly
violent collisions of hot and cold air above, the charged
atmosphere unleashes gusting winds and chilled rain. You
are turning now, in a circular motion, mimicking the cyclone.
Faster and faster, you can no longer hear yourself over the
howling winds. Exhausted from the frenzy, you are lost in
the rapture of the moment. Then, from churning sky, the
from moving against the wind (Strength DC 10),
and tiny creatures are blown away; spellcasters
must make a concentration checks when casting
spells (DC = 5 + level of spell).
The circular motion of the dancing (Perform
check) must be executed to stir the air in the
proper direction: counterclockwise in the
northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern
Finally, the Fly check infers knowledge of
atmospheric conditions, such as how the collisions
of hot and cold air, the heating of air in the upper
atmosphere, and the convergence of high and
low pressure systems all converge in the creation
of cyclones. Making this check is crucial to
controlling the whirlwind once it spawns.
If the incantation is successful, the cyclone
appears at a spot of your choosing within 400 ft.
Within the range of the cyclone, the localized
weather is a tornado with winds up to 300 mph:
ranged attacks are impossible, huge creatures
must make Strength checks to move forward,
large creatures risk being knocked prone and
rolled, and all flying creatures take a -16 penalty
to Fly checks (see wind effects in Pathfinder
Roleplaying Game). Outside the immediate
vicinity of the cyclone and stretching for 5 miles
in all directions, weather conditions are as a
thunderstorm with accompanying winds up to 74
mph (see Pathfinder Roleplaying Game for more
details on weather effects).
Note, you have the option of approaching the
winds with either respect or hostility. This may
or may not have ramifications for your character
and the game world at the GM’s discretion. If you
use Perform (comedy) for either of your Perform
checks, however, you are automatically choosing
an antagonistic or hostile approach. The winds
are not renowned for their sense of humor.
Though not required, secondary performers
traditionally encircle the primary performer,
moving around the ring in rhythm to the chanting
in a direction opposite of the primary performer.
Because this incantation requires checks on five
different skills, it rarely is attempted without
Performing the ritual leaves you and any
secondary performers exhausted.
The consequences of failure depend on the point
during the incantation it occurs.
If the failure takes place before the Fly check,
then the divine powers unleash their fury on the
impudence of the primary performer in the form
of a lightning bolt spell that deals 1d6 electricity
damage/skill check attempted.
If the failure occurs after two unsuccessful
Fly checks, then the cyclone is unleashed, but
it cannot be controlled. It drops down on top of
you, and you are subject to the full effect of the
cyclone, as described in the whirlwind spell (see
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game). In all likelihood,
secondary performers in the vicinity will also
be swept up by the cyclone. The cyclone moves
randomly from that point for the full duration
of the incantation, unless it exceeds its range,
whereupon it dissipates within 1d3 rounds.
Regardless, you cannot regain control of the
Incantations in theory and practice by Scott Gable & Troy Taylor, Zombie Sky Press