Summoning Spells

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Over the course of the years I’ve introduced many rules to reduce the power and effectiveness of certain spells. Teleportation and Divination magic have often been on the top of my hate list. However, as I look at the rules as they are written for the first time, I see that many of the problems I had with certain spells stemmed from the magic system we were using. Teleport or Detect Thoughts are not game-breaking if you character can only do it once per day. It’s when the spell can be cast repeatedly and in a short space of time that problems tend to arise.

So: in principle I have no issue with any spell operating in the way it is written. As long as the spell comes from an official Pathfinder source, I’m not going to disallow it. Spells from older third edition material will still need to be checked to make sure they’re not doing anything too anti-Pathfinder.

This largely means I don’t have much to say about spells. The only points worth raising are house rules that I think enhance the game, or improves the flavour of it. Which is largely where I am with the Summoning spells at the moment.

Summoning Spells

There are eighteen ‘core’ summoning spells in Pathfinder. Wizards and clerics have access to Summon Monster 1-9, and druids have access to Summon Nature’s Ally 1-9. Each of these spells grants the caster access to a fixed list of creatures that can be summoned. For example, Summon Monster I can be used to summon a dire rat, dolphin, eagle, fire beetle, poisonous frog, riding dog or a viper and nothing else. This works well from a rules point of view, but is terribly boring.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting to for casters to be able to personalise the list of creatures they can summon? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for clerics to summon creatures more in keeping with their faith? I think it would. The question is whether the extra work (and the extra rules) are worth the pain.

In the old house rules, I did two things. Firstly, I increased the CR of all summoned monsters to equal 75% of the caster level of the summoner. That rule has gone out of the window now, sorry. Secondly, I introduced rules to allow casters to customise their summoning lists. That way no two summoners would necessarily have access to the same summonable creatures. It would make combat less predictable, and offer a further way for a player to make their character unique (always a good thing).

I am keen to keep something like this in the game. I think it would be cool if Jumah’s list of summonable creatures could continue to be surprising and unique. However, we are left with the question of how to implement this, or if we implement it at all.

The Old House Rules

These rules simply said that when the caster learns a summon monster or summon nature’s ally spell he learns how to summon one creature of an approrpriate CR. Everytime he gains a level he learns one new creature for one summoning spell that he knows. However, he can also learn how to summon additional creatures in the same way that wizards can research and learn new spells.

We need to fix an appropriate CR to summon based on the level of the spell. That’s going to be less than my original estimates in order to bring the power-level in line with the published spel.  Looking at the spells that are currently printed then the CRs would probably be along these lines: Summon Monster I (CR less than 1); Summon Monster II (CR 1); Summon Monster III (CR 2); Summon Monster IV (CR 3-4); Summon Monster V (CR 5-6); Summon Monster VI (CR 7-8); Summon Monster VII (CR 9-10); Summon Monster VIII (CR 11-12); Summon Monster IX (CR 13-14).

Now we’ve played with these rules for a while so we should be able to judge if they are any good. The problem as far as I see it is that the more we increase diversity in the summoning spells the more chance we have for unforeseen circumstances. The generic lists of summoning monsters have been chosen for a reason: to be useful… but not too useful.

The Pathfinder Approach

Every month Paizo produce a 96-page adventure that is part of their Adventure Paths. In addition to the adventure, these books add further details of the default Golarion campaign setting as well as introducing new monsters and other game elements. In some volumes they present a more detailed overview of the Pathfinder gods, which included rules for customising their summoning lists.

The customisation went as far as adding a handful of additional monters that could be summoned by clerics of a specific god. Nothing was taken away from the summoning lists, just a few extra nasties squeezed in at certain levels. So for example, worshippers of Erastil (detailed in Adventure Path #32) gets to add the Celestial Elk to their Summon Monster II or Summon Nature’s Ally II summoning lists, and a Celestial Dire Boar to their Summon Monster III and Summon Nature’s Ally III summoning lists. Irori (Adventure Path #53) grants his worshippers the ability to add an extraplanar giant mantis and an extraplanar tiger to their Summon Monster IV lists.

These are the only official rules that Pathfinder has on this subject: they inflate the summoning lists of clerics (and druids who worship gods) with certain extra monsters. But there’s nothing for other summoners to get their teeth into. Not even a wizard who is a specialist conjurer has any means to increase the number, or alter the type, of creatures that can be conjured by general summoning magic. Not even the Summoner himself has any more freedom here.

I find this a bit unsatisfying. Obviously, we can obey these rules. We can add a few extra monsters here and there into summoning lists of clerics if we deem it appropriate, but it seems to be an unnecessary amount of work.

Unearthed Arcana

The Pathfinder ruleset is not so far removed from version 3.0 of Dungeons and Dragons that we can’t make use of the suggested optional rules from Unearthed Arcana. They are also happily online over at the d20 SRD, so please go and take a look.

I quite like the “Individualized Summoning Lists” at the end of the article. The Themed Summoning Lists are good too, but there’s no reason that an oraganisation couldn’t be made up of individual summoners with similar creatures in their repetoire. This is actually fairly similar to the house rules we were using, so I guess I must have been channelling the Unearthed Arcana when I thought of them.

Again if we adopted these rules, we would have to come up with a CR range for each summoning spell (the list above would probably be fine). I think that adding “one monster to one summoning list when a new level is gained” is the right approach – and that’s how the examples on the d20 srd are built. Of course, I think I’d also allow PCs to research or find new summoning formulae in the same way a character might find or develop a new spell.

Or we do nothing

The final option, of course, is not to tinker with summoning spells at all. We leave well alone and use the book rules. That would be simpler, but I’m tempted to say here that I prefer the Unearthed Arcana approach to the rather random rules that have graced the Pathfinder Adventure Path books over the last few years. The Unearthed Arcana is a published source, and doesn’t strike me that it’s doing anything against the spirit fo the changes that Paizo made to third edition.

Adopting the Unearthed Arcana rules would place more work on the part of the GM and the players. Is it worth it for the extra flavour and versatility, or should we just use the rules as they are written?


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6 thoughts on “Summoning Spells

  1. Hey Neil. I strongly think we should ditch the standard list for personalised ones. I have been looking at the summoning spells for Nicos, but to me something doesn’t seem right about summoning devils to do his bidding. I would be very keen to switch to a list made of mostly chaotic good outsiders and elementals. So yes – unearthed arcana all the way

  2. I agree with Steve. Unearthed Arcana works for me.

    The only problem for me is that the variation of the spell is severely curtailed by the ‘one monster per level gained’ method. I’d like a few more. Also, when do you start adding monsters to your list? Presumably not until you get your first Summoning spell. Just worth spelling out.

    I’d suggest at any point that you take a summon monster spell you add two monsters to your list. You can then add one per level and you can also add them in a similar way to learning a spell. It should probably be easier than learning a spell though. Maybe equivalent to learning a lower level spell?

  3. There is an option to add one creature to the summoning list of every summon monster spell you know when you gain a level. My suspicion is that this would quickly lead to a very bloated summoning list. I’d imagine that most casters would have their ‘go-to’ monsters that they always summon – especially so if they are building their own lists.

    I think you’re probably right, Daniel. It would be better if casters gained the knowledge of how to summon two creatures when they learn a new summoning spell. That combined with adding one additional summoned creature per level and the ability to add new creatures as per learning additional spells should be enough to flesh out the list.

    I’m not sure if it needs to be any easier to learn additional summonable creatures, as it seems fairly easy to learn new spells as it is. But we could see how that goes.

    One thing we need to think about is the Summoner. Should this reduced list also apply to the Summoner’s spell-like abilities, and does that reduce the effectiveness of the class?

    I think if this idea has enough support that it becomes a house rule I’ll post a full version of these rules up to blog so that everyone can have a good look at them.

  4. Just optional rules for the 3.5 version of the game. I was just of a mind that it was easier to poach existing rules then come up with something of my own… even if the rules are one revision older than the ruleset we’re using.

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