Finding the Path: Evocation

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“By tongue of bat

and sulphur’s reek

And the mystic words I now do speak

There where I wish to play my game,

Let empty air burst into

FLAME!”

 

Hello everyone, and welcome to the fifth in a series of 9 articles covering the basics of each of the various schools of spells for a Sorcerer, Wizard or other Arcane caster in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, focusing on the spells available in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook (and possibly any that stand out from elsewhere). The goal for each of these is to provide you with a quick overview of useful spells at each level as well as the people who use these spells.

That said, welcome to this week’s article on the arcane school of Evocation.

And what is the Evoker? Some would say it’s the quintessential wizard, throwing balls of fire and sheets of lightning around, and in many ways, it is just that. Let’s take a look at what the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook tells us: “Evokers revel in the raw power of magic, and can use it to create and destroy with shocking ease.” – From this, we get someone who destroys and creates things, but it doesn’t tell the full story. For that, we have to look at the description of the school itself: “Evocation spells manipulate magical energy or tap an unseen source of power to produce the desired end. In effect, an evocation draws upon magic to create something out of nothing. Many of these spells produce spectacular effects, and evocation spells can deal large amounts of damage.”

So an Evoker doesn’t summon creatures, instead, he creates forces and objects out of the magical fabric of the world (unlike the conjurer who summons them from elsewhere). And then, of course, he also destroys, which is what the Evoker specialization sets out to do, by adding damage to your spells (something that I think many forget), adding +½/level to the damage of all spells. So his magic missile would do 1d4+2 points per damage at first level, rather than 1d4+1, but at 20th level he’d do 5d4+15. A minimum of 20 damage for a first level spell, which is not too shabby.

But let’s dig into the spells of the school, shall we?

Light

Light is one of the first spells that many casters pick up, understandably so as it is not possible for most creatures to memorize spells without the use of light. It also comes in handy in those situations where a lowlevel character cannot bring a torch, such as underwater. Since it is a magical light, it cannot be put out by the normal means; dousing etc. simply do not work. The spell simply creates “normal light” in a 20 feet area, and increases the light levels in the following 20 feet radius by one step. But this is where the spell becomes interesting, and by extension torches too. Light levels are defined as four steps: Darkness, dim light, normal light, and bright light. (Assuming no magic is involved). – And while the light and so on is nice, the effect is better. You see, it is NOT POSSIBLE TO USE STEALTH IN NORMAL OR BRIGHT LIGHT (barring cover or invisibility effects). So stick it on an enemy rogue, and he’s sorted. 😉 – Best of all, there’s no saving throw, so he has no way of avoiding it. (Short of ditching the item you cast it on). One final recommendation for it (though goes slightly out of what I’d normally do in these articles because it is not in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook) is to look at the Reach Spell feat from the Advanced Player’s Guide. Then you do not need to touch the rogue anymore either.

Floating Disc

Floating Disc is more of a utility spell than most of the spells that appear in the Evocation school of magic, and it allows you to carry around liquids (2 gallons per level) or solid objects (100 pounds per level). This doesn’t sound like much until you realize what it actually entails. For maximum effect, this spell belongs in a game that uses encumbrance, just as a starting point. Next up is the fact that 50 gold coins (and by extension all other coins) actually weigh 1 pound. 100 pound is then the equivalent of 5,000 gp or the cash value of the gear of a 6th level character. More so, it is the value of a CR 11-12 encounters “wealth,” or the same as a light load for a character with Strength 18. That means for that a 1st level spell you get the equivalent strength for carrying as a character of 18 strength (and by the time you reach 4th level, you’ll outstrip him). Sure it only lasts an hour, but at least it gives you an option for carrying home the loot that you find, without slowing yourself or your companions down and risking the combat penalties for a medium or heavy load.

Magic Missile

“I’m attacking the darkness!” – I’m sure we all know this quote way too well. (If you do not, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-leYc4oC83E – unfortunately, it seems as if the original version is no longer available). And the spell he was casting was magic missile. While its damage is not too impressive at first, it has some advantages. No to hit roll, no saving throw and the only real protection is spell resistance as resistance to force damage is rare.

Shocking Grasp

Shocking grasp is a useful last resort spell, but not one to take if you have ways of staying away. The damage itself is decent, but the main kicker of this spell is the +3 to hit on targets wearing armor (such as the fighter in chain mail, who’s RIGHT NEXT to the squishy spellcaster). This enables you to level the playing field, as it targets his lowest armor class (touch), but also adds a further +3 if he’s in metal armor. Of course, it’s up to the GM to adjudicate which armors have a lot of metal, but in general, I’d suggest that armors that provide more than a +4 bonus would grant that bonus, with the notable exception in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook being the Hide armor.

Darkness

Darkness is, in effect, the inverse spell of light. But unlike light, it lowers the illumination in the area by 1 step. And that’s an important note to make on the spell; it does NOT cover the area in darkness. It only lowers the illumination levels by one step, so it’ll only take normal light to dim light. But that IS enough to create the requirements for Stealth, so throw this on one of your stealthy adventuring companions, and they’re good to go. Especially if they have darkvision or low-light vision, as they would not be affected.

Flaming Sphere

In many ways the little brother of fireball, this spell has its own niche to fill. That is because the damage done per round is less than that of the fireball (only 3d6), but it has a duration and it can move 30 feet per round, hitting the first target it gets to. Since directing it is a move action, you can do this and still cast your normal spells, increasing your damage potential. Or if you feel more like using it as a block to your opponents, you can set it in their path and deny them a direct route to you, unless they’re willing to accept the damage. In all, it makes for a good wall of fire style spell against low-level creatures, provided you have a narrow corridor.

Gust of Wind

Gust of wind is a bit of an oddity, in that it causes no damage, but has an effect almost similar to an abjuration spell. This is because it can prevent Medium and smaller creatures from moving or flying, similar to a very strong wind. That’s fairly straight forward, but the kicker of this spell comes in the second to last paragraph of it “In addition to the effects noted, a gust of wind can do anything that a sudden blast of wind would be expected to do. It can create a stinging spray of sand or dust, fan a large fire, overturn delicate awnings or hangings, heel over a small boat, and blow gases or vapors to the edge of its range.” – That’s because this is basically GM territory, on whether he allows it. Bear in mind though that 50 mph winds is significantly uncomfortable weather (Pathfinder classifies this as severe winds), so it’s not out of the question for a PC to make a one round squall, a localized blizzard (if there’s snow around) or even a dust storm.

Finally there’s my favorite use of the spell: Against swarms. This is because it still treats the creatures as the size that they originally are (Diminutive, Fine, Tiny) meaning that you can easily blow them away (or if the GM is generous, literally blow them apart), something that most people forget.

Scorching Ray

Another spell that attacks the touch armor class, this will allow you to do damage to up to 3 different targets at 4d6 points of damage (meaning that at 11th level it actually does more damage than a fireball cast at the same level, assuming it’s only one target). There is a drawback, however, one that applies to all “Ranged Touch Attack” spells. When you use it, you provoke an attack of opportunity, EVEN IF you cast it defensively. This is because a spell of this kind provokes attacks of opportunity both when the spell is cast, AND when you attack (as you count as using a ranged weapon in close combat).

Shatter

Shatter is one of my favorite spells, and one of the ones that my players hate the most. That is because it is a great spell for targeting their equipment. Nothing beats seeing your players’ favorite non-magic item go boom. That said, it’s a bit of a “NOT COOL” move, so don’t use it too often. Instead, the mere threat of it will suffice. (This goes double when the players go up in level, because they are likely to forget that it doesn’t affect magical items.) For players, it is a useful tool as well, as it can be used to target things like opponent weapons or gear. My personal target when using it as a player is holy symbols and spell component pouches. That’s because it is only useful against NON-magical items, and these two are essential to casters, but are unlikely to be magical.

Fireball

Probably the most iconic spell in the game, or at least close to it. There are a few considerations with this spell, but it mostly depends on your style of Game Master. This comes from the area that it’ll fill when it detonates. A fireball is a 20 feet radius SPREAD, which means that it can turn corners and “figure the area the spell effect fills by taking into account any turns the spell effect takes.” That means that you should be counting the number of squares that it affects (44 squares for a Fireball), and then filling 44 squares from the point of detonation (effectively backdraft from the fireball). However, not all GMs allow this, and will only allow you to fill any squares that are within the 20 feet radius of the detonation so that you could be filling up much less space. Discuss that with your GM, to ensure that you know his stance on this.

-It is also worth bearing in mind that you have to be able to see the detonation point, for you to affect it, and that if you’re trying to shoot the fireball through a small area, like an arrowslit, a porthole or similar, then a ranged touch attack might be required to hit the narrow opening. (And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is one of the smelliest spells out there, in that you have to carry bat-droppings to cast it. If you do, a GM might well give a creature tracking you a bonus to the Survival check, provided the tracker has the scent ability).

Lightning Bolt

In many ways, a lightning bolt is similar to a fireball, in that it does the same amount of damage, though it does electricity damage instead of fire. The main difference is that it travels in a 120 foot line, and does damage to everyone that it hits in that line. It can also be used to cause damage to items with a low melting temperature.

Tiny Hut

A survival mechanism is the key to this spell. For players, it is a matter of whether their GM is one of the ones who use a lot of environmental effects, but if you have one of those, then this is the spell for you, as it helps protect against most environmental effects (short of a hurricane) and allows for temperatures to be far more moderate while within the area of effect, so that normal survival gear can handle it.

The secondary effect of the spell is that it grants total concealment to anyone within the sphere, making it very difficult for others to target the occupants, and therefore not only giving a 50% miss chance to any attacks directed against the occupants of the tiny hut, but also allowing them to use Stealth-related abilities, so a rogue could duck in, use stealth, come back out for a sneak attack and then do it again, for as long as the tiny hut persisted.

Fire Shield

A bit of a misleading name, as this can allow you to do both cold and fire damage. It punishes an attacker when they hit you, causing them to suffer damage PER SUCCESSFUL hit, so someone could literally beat themselves to death. It’s important to note that it calls out natural attacks and handheld weapons that strike you, so a bow is not affected, but there’s NO caveat against reach weapons. As they are handheld and strike you, they will take damage.

On a side note, because it also provides fire/cold resistance (depending on the type chosen), it can also render you immune to the relevant environmental effects, provided the damage suffered from those do not overcome your resistance.

Ice Storm

This particular spell is not the greatest damage dealer out there, doing only a total of 5d6 which is very much on the low side for a 4th level spell. So what makes the spell powerful? That would be the ability to to place difficult terrain anywhere you please, and thereby gain a tactical advantage, enabling you to hamper enemy movement. This increases enemy movement cost to 2, halving the amount of distance they can cover. (Reducing a normal, unarmored human to 15 feet). Further, and more importantly, they cannot run nor charge through an area of difficult terrain, so you gain some measure of safety with this spell. Also, it reduces Perception checks of the enemy, though unfortunately it does not hamper their vision enough to grant concealment of any sort.

 

Resilient Sphere
In essence a portable prison, it allows you to capture a creature up to a certain size. Though the size is only 1 ft. in diameter per level, that still means that you start at 7 ft. in diameter, enabling you to capture almost all medium sized creatures. Further, while the subject captured is practically immune to harm (as it is behind a wall of force-like effect), it also cannot penetrate the outside of it, though breathing continues normally. A great choice for those moments where you have to stop an enemy spellcaster or where you wish to capture the villain.

 

Wall of Fire
The wall of fire spell does what it says on the tin, functioning as an area-denial spell, that allows you to control the battlefield, limiting enemy movement, unless they wish to suffer damage. Place it in areas that you do not wish for an enemy to approach or come through, and watch them burn. As the wall only does fire damage on one side of the wall, you can also make turn it around, so that the cold side is where they want to be, funneling them to an area of your choosing, by allowing them “safe passage” down the tunnel. As the spell doesn’t allow a saving throw, it is a good solution against nimble foes who could dodge things like a fireball, and even more so against the undead, as they suffer double damage from it. As the wall can be made permanent with permanency, it also has a role in games that use the kingdom building rules, as you’d be able to make a castle surrounded by a fiery moat, instead of the usual water.

 

Wall of Ice

Also an area-denial effect, the wall of ice does not do damage in the way that the wall of fire does, though anyone breaking through the wall still suffers some damage. It forms a protective barrier for you instead, that an enemy would have to pass through to get to you. Do note that as it does not specify (unlike wall of fire) that it grants concealment, and as such you can target and be targeted through the wall. (Though a line of effect is not guaranteed. Someone using a ray spell would still need to “blow through” the wall of ice, where someone using charm person would be free to do so normally).

 

Cone of Cold
Cone of Cold does not have much of a description, mentioning only damage, after creating an area of extreme cold. As such, given the right circumstances, the spell could be almost indetectable, depending on the weather in the area. It’d be noticeable as drop in temperature and possibly a faint shimmering in the air.

 

Interposing Hand

The first of the hand spells, this creates a Large-sized hand (i.e. the hand ITSELF is size Large, not the hand of a Large-sized creature), which provides you with cover against the opponent, and which’ll have to be killed to remove. It also slows opponents of less than 2,000 pounds to only half speed, allowing you to halt the progress of many opponents while gaining a significant armor bonus against them. Further, it will always oppose any opponent regardless of light levels or other conditions, interposing itself constantly between you and them. Once they are down, you can move it, as a move action, to a new target and have them suffer the effects.

 

Sending

A rarity in the evocation school is this spell, which is a communication spell. It limits you to 25 words, but you can contact anyone on the same plane as yourself, and often other planes as well. (With a 5% chance of going wrong if they’re on another plane, and additional modifiers as deemed appropriate by the Game Master, if local conditions are bad). Just remember that with 25 words, you can communicate quite a lot, especially if you’ve agreed on codewords ahead of time. If you are the GM and your players use this spell, allow the caster some time to concoct the message, as the casting time is 10 minutes, and you want to be fair to them, on what they will want to say.

 

Wall of Force

Similar to wall of ice in many ways, this spell protects those inside it behind an almost impenetrable barrier, it’ll protect against most attacks and spells, though notably gaze attacks still work, even if things like breath weapons do not. In effect, this is one of  the best defensive spells you can get, and it is located in a mostly attack-centered school of magic.

 

Chain Lightning

Similar to lightning bolt, it is possible to attack multiple targets with it, having it jump from one target to another, after which it can jump to a number of secondary targets within 30 feet of each other. Each secondary target takes the same amount of damage as the primary target, with a minimum of 11d6 to the primary target, and up to 11 other targets. At that point it would do a total of 132d6 points of damage in total, making it an extremely powerful spell for it’s level. (A maximum of 420d6 points of damage at level 20, assuming there are enough targets in range).

 

Contingency

One of my favorite spells as it allows you to set up spells to target you, prior to being used, although you can have only one in effect. My favorite combination of is usually contingency and teleportation, as it allows the character to escape immediately, usually with the conditions set as either, complete loss of mental control (things like confusion) or suffering severe damage (less than 20% hit points remaining). And then, escape completed, since it cannot be interrupted as the spell is already cast. Of course, it can be combined with others, such as use of a command word to activate some other pre-set spell (though usually only defensive spells are possible, as they all must have a target as being yourself).

 

Forcecage
Resilient Sphere taken to its logical conclusion, forcecage is a spell designed to imprison a target in an almost impenetrable cage, through which there can be no escape whether through physical or magical means (in the case of the windowless cell). Only extreme amounts of damage or a very few magic spells or abilities can affect it. The spell for you, if you want your target taken alive and with them being possible to interrogate. Should you need to, you can squeeze through the bars of the barred cage version of the spell, though any creature stuck in the forcecage is unlikely to be friendly.

 

Mage’s Sword
Honestly, this is one of those spells I generally do not use, though that is perhaps a mistake. That is because unlike most other spells, mage’s sword does FORCE damage, which is quite rare, and even rarer to see a resistance against. That makes it very effective, especially as it can hit ethereal and incorporeal creatures, though it only does one attack per round. (Each round doing 4d6+3 points of force damage). It is a great spell to use against those creatures with multiple resistances, though spell resistance can end the spell prematurely.

 

Prismatic Spray

This is my favorite 7th level spell, and it’s prismatic cousins are not far behind. Simply put, this is due to the sheer amount of chaos that it brings, and the random effects that it can have. It is impossible for an opponent to predict what they’ll be hit by, so trying to reduce the effects is unlikely to do anything. A useful spell most of the time, on occasion it lets you down, doing only minimal damage. On the best occasions though, you’ll never see your opponent again. (GMs, be creative when sending a creature to a different plane especially. The weirder or harsher the plane the recipient is sent to, the better. My personal favorite would be the elemental Plane of Earth, as most creatures would find themselves stuck in a small cave, from which there might not be an escape. (If not using the standard planes that are provided for in Paizo’s campaign settings, I recommend the para-elemental Plane of Ooze, just for fun).

 

Sunburst

Sunburst is in essence an extreme anti-undead (and a few other specific creatures) spell, though it shares many qualities with fireball. Unlike fireball though, it is important to note that sunburst has a 80 ft radius burst, not a spread, so it will not fill up the adjacent areas or turn corners like a fireball would.

 

Meteor Swarm
Meteor swarm is one of those spells that you want to keep, simply because of the amazing area of effect. Placed right, it can affect up to 80 x 80 feet (or the equivalent of 256 squares, doing 2d6 points of bludgeoning damage to a target hit by the small spheres, and then by 6d6 points of damage. But, you can stack them up, causing up to 8d6 points of bludgeoning damage and 24d6 points of fire damage on top, and it is useful against a variety of creatures, even those with fire resistance, as it specifically calls out that the damage is combined before applying fire resistances, and that you must save vs. Reflex against each explosion individually, which is a rarity in spells.

 

You’ll note that a number of spells have been left out from this look into Evocation. In most cases this is because their use is obvious or they’re so closely related to other spells that they’ll have similar thoughts behind them as well as similar effects.

 

And that concludes our investigation into Evocation. Next week, we’ll be looking at Illusion . Let me know in the comments below of any creative uses you have found for Evocation spells, or times where they have failed you dramatically.

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Kim Frandsen

Kim Frandsen

37 years old, and a gamer since I was 13. These days I freelance as a writer for various companies (currently Fat Goblin Games, Flaming Crab Games, Outland Entertainment, Purple Duck Games, Rusted Iron Games and Zenith Games) as well as editing the Pathfinder and D&D 5th edition lines for D20PFSRD Publishing. I've dipped my hands into all sorts of games, but my current "go-to" games are Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classics and SLA Industries. Unfortunately, while wargaming used to be a big hobby, with wife, dog and daughter came less time.
Kim Frandsen

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