Summoning Guidelines

Go to Pathfinder: The New Deal index


I’m shortly going to post a complete summary of the New Deal house rules to the site. It’ll be in the form of a handy PDF that we can print out and bring to sessions. As the number of house rules are now surprisingly few, it shouldn’t be too bulky a document. But before we get to that stage, we need to have a closer look at the guidelines for choosing new monsters that can appear on the summoning lists of the Summon Monster and Summon Nature’s Ally spells.

Following the recent post on Summoning spells it has been decided to use personalised summoning lists for individual casters. These rules have been taken directly from Unearthed Arcana (2004) and tweaked a little to make them Pathfinder-compatible. At the moment the rules look like this:

Summoning Lists

Each spellcaster has a unique list of monsters she can summon with any single Summon Monster or Summon Nature’s Ally spell. When a spellcaster first gains access to a summon spell, she chooses either one monster from the list published in the Core Rules (2009) or a comparable creature from another approved source. This chosen monster is the only monster she can summon with that spell.

Each time the character gains a new spellcasting level she may add one monster to one summoning list to which she has access. In addition the caster can research or discover new monster summoning formulae in the same way that a wizard adds additional spells to his spell book. All spellcasters can use the “Spells copied from another’s spellbook or scroll” or “Independent research” methods described in the section on Adding Spells to a Wizard’s Spellbook. In these cases the spell-level of the summonable creature is equal to the level of the Summon Monster or Summon Nature’s Ally spell that would be required to summon it.

If a spellcaster chooses a monster that is not on an existing summoning list, then that creature must be of a comparable power-level to the creatures that are. Simply choosing a creature of the same CR value is not a sufficient guide. Players should compare the CR, hit dice and special abilities of creatures. New summonable creatures should not grant any greater utility than creatures that already exist. If the monster seems to match the power and abilities of the monsters at the same spell level, it’s probably okay to add that monster to your list.

The Specifics

It’s the third paragraph that I have problems with. It’s all a bit woolly don’t you think? Do we need to be more prescriptive than this? Should we single out specific special abilities as the Polymorph family of spells do? As an example of what I mean, look at the Beast Shape spells. Beast Shape I doesn’t let the caster gain the ability to grab, pounce or trip when he polymorphs even if he turns into a creature that would normally have those abilities. He can’t have those abilities unless he casts Beast Shape II.

In regard to summoning, do we look at the existing lists and say that no summoned creature can have abilities that aren’t already in those lists? Creatures on the Summon Monster I list have disease, poison, Swim and Fly speeds of 80 ft, innate luminescence, and a land speed of 40 ft. Can we say that nothing summoned by a Summon Monster I spell can have abilities beyond those listed, even if creatures of that type usually have those abilities? Or is that too tricky.

The problem is that summoning is a less exact science that even the polymorph spells.

Take the unicorn for example. This is a CR 3 creature with 4 hit dice. Under those terms it could feasibly be on the Summon Monster III list. But that’s before you look at it’s abilities. The monster is immune to charm, compulsion and poison; it has a number of spell-like abilities including healing and teleportation; it has a horn, multiattack and the powerful charge ability; and it continually radiates protection from evil, its horn acts as a magic weapon and it has wild empathy like a druid. That’s far beyond any other comparable creature. In terms of abilities the unicorn should probably be on the Summon Monster V (or even the Summon Monster VI) list.

The point I’m trying to make is this: the third paragraph as printed above urges us to take each monster on a case-by-case basis and weigh up it’s compatibility with a summoning spell of a particular level. The Pathfinder system prefers a more prescriptive approach, with what you can and cannot do specifically defined in the rules. Do we need to follow the spirit of Pathfinder here and openly define what a summoning spell of a particular level can and cannot do, or are we happy in taking a more laid back approach?

I think duplicating the prescriptive approach from the polymorph spells is a waste of effort with summoning. Monsters are simply too varied to cover every eventuality, and we would be faced with too much effort for too little gain. It would be quicker to go through every monster in all the Bestiaries and define which spell could be used to summon them: something that I’m not proposing to do either.

But what are your thoughts on this. Are the rules above enough? Do they need more definition?


Go to the Pathfinder: The New Deal index

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2 thoughts on “Summoning Guidelines

  1. if you take a laid back approach you’ll get power creep.

    I *strongly* feel that if you want to diverge from the published rules here you need to take a very close ; specific look at every new monster you want to add to a list and put it in the right place (effectively do what you have done above for the unicorn for every new monster).

    This (IMnsHO) is what you *need* to do if you step away from the published path.
    Yes, it’s time consuming – but that’s the price you pay for tinkering.

  2. Hi Jon. To answer your comment from the other Summoning post: it’s not too late to make a case for keeping the rules-as-written here. Nothing is set in stone, and probably never will be.

    This revision to the Summoning system is an official variant to the third edition rules as published by Wizards. Although it’s a variant for the 3.5 version of the game, and not for Pathfinder. And it does gloss over some fundamental issues.

    Those three paragraphs of new rules above are actually more detailed than the guidelines in the Unearthed Arcana. It’s only now that I’ve studied them more closely that I see greater exposition may be required.

    The way I thought this could work would be this: summoners (by which I mean any class that can summon, and not simply the Summoner class) have two ways of obtaining new creatures – either automatically when they gain levels, or as additional items provided by the GM.

    I foresee that a summoner going up a level would do some research and choose a new creature for one of their summoning spells. They would then need to run that creature past the GM to make sure that there was an agreement as to whether this creature was the right power level for the spell they had in mind.

    Summoning formulae left as treasure can be calculated by the GM ahead of time. Summoners who go shopping for summoning formulae are also at the mercy of the GM as to what is available and what level spell the monster fits into.

    So the exercise I did with the unicorn will be done for every creature before it is added to a summoning list, but I’m not sure it has to be done in advance of a player showing interest in it. Putting the effort into assigning all monsters to a summoning list wholesale isn’t worth it, when 95% of those monsters will never find their way into a player’s spellbook.

    There might be a middle road of keeping all the summoning spells unchanged, and then allowing for the existence of other summoning formulae that can be found as treasure or researched by PCs.

    Or… we could just go with the rules exactly as they are written. Only Daniel and Steve commented on the Summoning post so I’m still more than willing to canvass opinions here.

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