Today I’ll be picking up my ongoing review at the Spells and Rituals chapter of Paizo’s Horror Adventures sourcebook for the Pathfinder RPG. This is usually the part of the sourcebooks where I get bored, I admit – tacking still more spells and effects onto a game already replete with them means that there tend to be variations on familiar themes rather than serious innovation, but that’s more a challenge of game design and balance than it is an aspersion upon the book’s writers.
First off they give us a list of spells from previous sourcebooks that fit the horror genre of gameplay; these include obvious ones like animate dead and unhallow, but also things like phantom chariot and clone that might normally be seen as a form of utility spell. They’re a decent selection of spells to fill out the spellbooks of creepy horror spellcasters all on their own.
After that we get the individual class lists of new spells; these are accompanied by single-line explanations of a given spell. Alchemists, for example can learn temporary graft as a 3rd-level extract, which is about as gruesome as it sounds – you alchemically weld a part from another creature to your own body to get a bonus for a time. Each spellcasting class – including antipaladins and the psychic spellcasting classes – gets a bit of love here.
Among specific spells, we get things like appearance of life, a nice illusion that disguises the undead it affects as living creatures. Even better, it can be made permanent, for the necromancer who wants to have a semblance of having living staff so they can live in the city while still having tireless and obedient minions. Bloodbath, on the other hand, is for the person who knows they have more HP than their foes; inflicting themselves with bleed damage, they cause targets to also take bleed damage. It’s a good choice for a spellcaster lurking in the back, while the meatier minions up front wear opponents down faster than the spellcaster can bleed out.
Mythos-flavored summoners can get contact entity to let them attempt to call upon entities of the Mythos. Of course, unlike a regular summonng, the creatues don’t have to respond and if they do, they do at their own speed and by their own methods. On the other hand, evil druids, rangers, and witches all might appreciate green caress, a spell that prevents ability damage from being healed, deals its own damage to ability scores, and has the potential to transform a victim into a shrub or tree.
For the cult hunters out there, we get sense madness, which functions as detect magic except for mental disturbances. I don’t recommend using it on the high priests of such cults, or on things like the Great Old Ones. While there aren’t any rules for it, anyone who did so in my game might well spend the rest of their life as a gibbering husk.
And in case you hadn’t had enough grotesque destruction by this point, symbol of exsanguination should satisfy you; it functions much like symbol of death save that it it kills by making victims bleed out graphically. Bring a cure potion and tie a rope to the rogue before sending them in if you think you might be facing one of these.
For the necromancer who aspires to be a real jerk, there’s torpid reanimation – you can cast it on a selection of corpses and choose either a trigger or a time delay. Have some foes who might hold a mass funeral for several murder victims? Make the corpses and drop this spell on them with the cue being the toll of the funeral bell. Surprise! Uncle Fred and Little Billy are still dead, but now they want to eat your foes right in the middle of the church! It’s good for horrific shock value, if nothing else.
Looking at the short selection of rituals, one that stands out for being properly alarming is the hungering of shadows, a ritual that blankets an area of a mile per primary caster level in deep darkness, such that nothing can brighten it to more than a dim light level. Tack this together with a prophecy about an ancient evil reviving, or make it already be done and an area blighted with eternal night that the players have to go into to find something vital. As an added bonus, the six secondary casters all glow as the light is funneled into them, which could make some nice terrifying stories about specters and phantasms lurking in the dark.
That does it for Spell and Rituals; next time I’ll delve into chapter five, which promises to cover Horror Rules!