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More About the Words of Power

This is the third post in a series about adapting the Words of Power system.

  • The first post that introduces the system as I understand it is here.
  • The second post that covered types of effect words is here.

In the previous post, twenty-five effect words were reduced down to eight. This includes one I created for temporary magic weapons. For the Change effects, I added a house rule that you can only gain the form or abilities of creatures you have encountered and taken a sample of. Instead of listing possible form or function modifications, the list is generated by the creatures the spellcaster has encountered.

Since damage is damage, I condensed all the energy types down to their damage effects. There were fire and cold effect words that did the same amount of damage. so now regardless of energy source, there are three types of damage that can be done. The spellcaster is free to use whatever energy type they want as it makes no difference in terms of damage. (It also allows more than the standard five energy types.)

Body Effect Words

That said, what separated the energy types was that a given effect word did damage and placed a condition of the target(s). That is meaningful, so I have separated the condition effects out and placed them with the Body effects words. This will add back another fourteen effect words if I borrow the fifth edition conditions, but it is worth it. These Body effect words would be separate from Energy words. Adding the conditions gives you paralysis, petrification, charm, invisibility, and so much more. They are powerful words on their own.

That said, these Body words combined with Energy words allow you to duplicate the WoP words, but also invent some fanciful and scary options. What if an acid cloud didn't blind you, but grappled you instead? As a player, a creepy green acidic fog that damaged me, stopped me in place, and nullified speed abilities would terrify me. What if a Flame Dart also stunned me? A sonic wave that also knocked me prone? A gust of wind that charmed me? These are the kinds of spells that interest me because it's more than just whitling down an opponent's hit points.

The Rest of the Body Effect Words

There are a few more Body effect words that are more than conditions. Two of the words, Energy Resistance and Energy Immunity would be moved to the Energy effect words. They were already energy type agnostic, so the specific type is determined at the time of casting the spell.

The Enhance and Perfect Form effect words are identical to those in the Modify effect words from the previous post. Boosting ability scores is handled by those effect words. Yes, this means that a spell caster has to gain a sample to boost a target's ability scores. The Enhance Ability spell ties each of the ability scores to an animal, so it fits with this system pretty well.

That leaves Fortify, which I will simplify to simply add temporary hit points equal to the target's Hit Dice or level.

Like the Energy Immunity and Energy Resistance effect words, it's important to add the Physical Resistance and Physical Immunity effect words. Resistance offers a +4 bonus or rolling advantage to Saving Throws against a specific Body Effect word. Immunity would simply make the target immune to a specific Body Effect word. (It makes me think of a spell that makes the target immune to the effects of being knocked prone like the  Instant Stand ability I've read about somewhere.)

The Fear, Wounding, and Healing Effect Words

There are two Fear effect words that aren't needed anymore now that Frightened is a part of the Body effect words. Fear is simply placing the Frightened effect on a creature.

All but one of the Wounding effect words basically deal damage like energy effect words with the side effect that undead creatures gain hit points. I'll make these reversed healing spells instead.

This brings us to Bleeding Wounds, an effect word that does 1 point of ongoing damage per round. I'll leave that effect word as is.

Healing spells restore hit points, but remove hit points from Undead creatures. Healing spells also remove one or more conditions a target is suffering. Why not have them place the condition on Undead targets as well? It may not make sense in a narrative way and some of the conditions will have no effect, but why not? Stunning Zombies have a meaningful effect, especially if the Cleric is out of commission or otherwise occupied.

This adds two Healing Effect words, Heal (1d6 hit points per caster level) and Cure (remove one Body effect from the target). Healing effect words have the side effect of Harming undead creatures by reducing hit points or placing a Body effect on them.

Adding one more effect word, Harm, is essentially the reverse of Heal.

Progress So Far

In all my posts so far, I've covered 42 effect words from the Pathfinder Words of Power system. So far, I've reduced that down to 23 Words of Power and added what I think is some wild effects.

This post and the previous one should have covered everything that can be done to a target's physical form. In the next post, I'll cover effects that cover the mind before moving on to other effects.

Words of Power for Simpler Games

Thanks and a Link to Recap

I owe a debt to both Keith J Davies and CTP from Giant in the Playground. CTP provided a wonderful guide to WoP in 2013. Keith shared a lot of good thoughts to my post on MeWe. Unfortunately, there is not a good way to link to my post there. (There is no API for posting, either, but that's a story for another time.)

My previous post on the Words of Power system is here.

Keith Always Has Great Ideas

Keith brought up a very good point that the HERO System does a very good job of building powers and could be a useful guide. He suggested changing the Effect Words around Acid, Fire, and Lightning to have certain advantages and limitations. This allows a spellcaster using those words to think carefully about the words being used and not just make Fireball with Complications spells. Here's what he said:

So, lightning might have armor-piercing (in D&D/PF, perhaps a bonus to the save DC), acid is uncontrolled (i.e. does damage for a brief time after the initial attack... fire could work here, but acid arrow exists as precedent), fire might be inherently explosive (does diminishing damage around the target... or in this case, is always an area effect -- small, unless overridden), and so on.

Limitations, lightning might have a side effect or backlash (caster takes damage), acid... dunno offhand, fire might have decreased accuracy (always uses the grenade tables), and so on.

I really like this for a number of reasons. One is that keeping a larger number of Words to use creates more interesting combinations. Another is that by saying that an energy has advantages and drawbacks, the system as a whole encouraging more thoughtful spells and provides a real choice to compare specializing in an energy type or using all of them.

I Do Not Always Have Great Ideas

One of the goals of using Words of Power as some kind of framework to create spells is to make it simpler. However, the system is not difficult now and I've been given advice that would make building certain spells interesting. I'm also concerned that making effects simple makes spells bland. This conflicts with another goal to make spells interesting.

So in the face of so many good things, I'm going to attempt to go a different path.

I love spells that go beyond different ways to damage a target or targets. However, I want to start with them because they feel easier to explain. I'll get into relative values and spell levels later; bear with me to work through the effects. The effects will be fairly generic at first with an ability to specialize and fine tune the spell later.

The Energy Spells

To simplify the Effect Words that center around damage, I generalize damaging spells to 1d6 damage per spellcaster level (max 10d6). Wall spells do 1d8 damage plus the level of the spellcaster to anyone running through the wall (Max 10 points).

This provides two effects words instead of 10: Energy Blast and Energy Wall.

I also want to add another, Energy Weapon. This creates a weapon that does 1d4 damage and lasts a number of rounds equal to the spellcaster's level. The shape of the weapon is irrevelant, it provides a way for a spellcaster to create a temporary magic item that can help the caster or anothe member of the party to temporarily do a specific type of energy damage.

I'll talk about boosts later, but I did want to mention that one of the Meta Words will boost an energy spells by increasing the die type. I plan to use Keith's Dice Progression. (I told you he has good ideas.)

The Change/Enhance/Modify Spells

The Change effect words in WoP focus on partial or full transformations into a beast. The type of beasts are not stated, but based on the effects available to choose, it is obvious that there is a serpentine form, an avian form, and a feline form. Change spells can also increase Armor Class and grant abilities like trip, swimming, darkvision, etc.

To simplify this, the limitation of a partial or total transformation spell effect can only use a creature actually encountered, not researched, but the spellcaster. I'm not ashamed to say that this was inspired by the Wild Kratts. Despite tons of research, the brothers gain no creature powers without fur, feather, or some small sample of an animal. (They traveled in time to gain the powers of a Dodo bird, but that's another story.)

The original WoP has three change effects, but I will name them Modify spells instead and there will be five.

Modify Body Gain the Strength, Dexterity, Constitution or one physical characteristic.
Modify Mind Gain the Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma or memories.
Modify Shape Gain the form, not the special abilities
Modify Soul Be transformed into the target with special abilities
Modify Ability Gain a special ability of the target

Again, there must be an encounter with a creature and a sample taken before these take effect. If your 3rd level spellcaster survived getting a sample of a dragon, congratualtions.

Part Two Coming Later

I'm over 1000 words, so I'll leave off here. More about Divination and Armor spells next time.


A Look at the Words of Power System

Words of Power System

While looking through various srd sites, I read about a spell building system called Words of Power. It was included in the Ultimate Magic book released in 2011. I immediately thought that this is a straightforward system, but like everything Pathfinder, it felt really big.

How big? Using the rules as written, there are 136 effects that can be combined to generate 19.681 different spell effects. Although there are ways to boost the effect and change targets and durations, the basic effect is the same. A boosted Fire Blast does more damage than an unboosted one, but the effect is the same: a blast of fire damages one or more targets.

Despite the size, I started to play with it and came up with some weird spells. My favorite ones combined contradictory effects like damage and healing. For example:

Brink of Death

School conjuration (healing), evocation (fire); Level druid1, sorcerer/wizard 1


Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (flint and a drop of oil)


Range: Close (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: Selected
Duration: Instantaneous


This spell deals 1d4 points of fire damage to a selected target. A melee or ranged touch attack to hit is required and does not allow a saving throw. If the target of this spell is dying, it is automatically stabilized.

This is like a final blow by a druid or wizard that will basically burn the last handful of hit points of its target, but prevent it from dying. This is how the bad guy gets away while still leaving a mark. Want to be more mean, use acid instead. Ouch!

Online Reaction

I had some fun with a few spells, but I noticed it took a bit of doing to finish a spell. I searched for online reactions to it and found that almost everyone liked the idea, but believed that the system was broken. I saw requests for a grimoire of wordspells, but I never found one.

Reading through posts, I wondered why consensus is that it's broken. I chalked up my time to generate a spell was more due to a lack of familiarity. It turns out that there are many effect combinations that are not allowed. For example, I can provide the target of a spell with +1 resistance bonus to an energy type and give them an extra action the next round, but I can't give them the resistance and increase their movement rate. In another example, I can Cure Light Wounds and provide a +4 bonus to AC against incoporeal creatures, but I can't Cure and provide a +1 AC Bonus to incoporeal creatures. Yet, this feels like a minor quibble. The same idea is possible, just a few fine-tuned touches are not allowed.

So, I went into the math of the thing to look for answers.

The Math

A word on methodology: certain words could be level 0 or 1 depending on the class. I chose the lowest level available for the purposes of determining the spell level of each effect word and the combined effects.

As mentioned earlier, there are 19,681 possible spell effects with this system. That said, many of them feel very similar. This is due to the fact that there are many variations of the same concept. Acid Burn, Fire Jet, and Spark, just in different ways. 1d4 damage. There are more of these that expand to 1d6 per level and more. That 3 times to many words of power. One word of power for damage, choose a type later. Boost a damage word to increase the die rolled.

A deeper look showed a dearth of Level 0 to Level 2 spells that are possible with this system. There are more 9th level spells possible (799) than Levels 0 to 2 combined (131). Even if you combine levels 0 to 3, it's still only 895 spells. A bit over half of the spells (53.75%) are level 5 and 6. Almost 75% of the spells are levels 5 through 7 combined.

This tells me that a 9th level wizard/sorcerer is really beginning to take advantage of the system, but a 12th level wizard truly has a imperial buttload (126 gallons) of options. The combinations are great, but lower level characters have few options for really interesting effects.

Now What?

Attempts to fix the system haven't made it to fruition. Before talking about changes to the system, I want to mention a simpler system that I read on facebook. In essence, provide a number of tokens and require three in combination to generate a specific spell. The names of the runes weren't important. There are no effects assigned to the runes at all. A wizard in this system learns by experimentation and experience. As the characters advance, they will know (thanks to the DM) what the first rune should be for a specific spell. Later on, they can get the first two runes. Scrolls are just three runes, but the wizard won't know what it does until they do any experimentation.

If you start with 10 runes, that will generate 120 different spells. That is enough for many players.

Between those two examples (Words of Power and the Rune System) there is a happier medium. Consolidate similar effects in the Words of Power system to create fewer words. Remove descriptors and tags like Fire, Acid, Mind-affecting, etc for spell building until the very end when they are added as descriptors only. Add numbers and shapes as descriptors. Create unusual descriptors like coin-shaped, head (like a head of cattle or a skull, it's up to the player and the GM), or ebbing. Since the descriptors aren't part of the process until the end, the effect can be created quickly, but the manifestation of that effect can become really evocative and possibly add an unforseen benefit.

More on that in a separate post.

Curious, though. Have any of you used the Words of Power system? How did it work for you?

Last but not least, here is Section 15 information for Ultimate Magic.

Section 15: Copyright Notice
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic. © 2011, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Authors: Jason Bulmahn, Tim Hitchcock, Colin McComb, Rob McCreary, Jason Nelson, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Sean K Reynolds, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Russ Taylor.

And section 15 for the Brink of Death spell

Section 15: Copyright Notice
Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. © 2009, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Author: Jason Bulmahn, based on material by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Magic. © 2011, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Authors: Jason Bulmahn, Tim Hitchcock, Colin McComb, Rob McCreary, Jason Nelson, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Sean K Reynolds, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Russ Taylor.

Brink of Death, © 2019, John Payne

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