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Oloch, Shardra, and Alahazra combine spells to fend off skeletons.

A spell is a one-time magical effect brought into being, or "cast", by a spellcaster. Spells, like the rest of magic, fall into one of four magical traditions: arcane, divine, occult, and primal.123

Casting spells

Most spellcasters prepare their spells in advance—whether from a spellbook or through prayers—while some cast spells spontaneously without preparation. Despite these different ways characters use to learn or prepare their spells, when it comes to casting them, many of the spells are very much alike, with magic being guided by certain core principles. Some spellcasters select their spells from a limited list of spells known, while others have access to a wide variety of options.4

Spells can require considerable concentration to cast, and often have a limited range. Some must be physically aimed, much like a crossbow, at a target within the spellcaster's vision5 or affect an area or radius rather than a specific target.6 When cast, spells have distinct manifestations—whether visible or not—and people especially skilled in spellcraft can identify a spell simply by observing the spellcaster's actions.7

Many spells' effects can permanently affect a target, but few spells themselves are permanent once cast. Some can be made permanent through the application of the permanency spell, while spells whose effects last longer than an instant can be dispelled via the dispel magic spell or dismissed by their caster.8

Appearance of runes

Runes appear around Ezren's hands as he uses a spell to investigate a puzzle box.

Since before the founding of Thassilon, spellcasting has manifested visually in the appearance of runes near the spellcaster. Xin, Thassilon's founder, investigated these phenomena when developing rune magic and theorized that they represented the language of creation and the nature of magic.9

Mnemonic matrices

Different types of spellcaster prepare their spells in special ways.
See also: Wizard

Wizards prepare spells within an arcane mental construct called a mnemonic matrix. Many types of matrix exist, each often tailored by individual wizards; for example, Acadamae Headmaster Toff Ornelos uses the memory palace, a classic form of matrix documented by Oridius Uldor in 4519 AR.10

Spell ranks

Spells are broadly classified by power and complexity into one of 10 spell ranks, also referred to as spell levels. The nature of these ranks is poorly known but experimentally proven, and excludes cantrips, which are durable and inexhaustible.10

These ranks are interpreted in different ways across magical traditions. Wizards, for example, might visualize a tower with 10 floors of ascending power, the higher levels locked from those with insufficient expertise.10 Clerics of Nethys at the Temple of Ten Doors view them as ten gates or doors in a palace which must be unlocked through enlightenment.11

Consensus among arcane academics of magic theory suggests that the nature and number of ranks reflects a fundamental aspect of reality, though dissenters of this theory such as Juleana Foridius note that it merely reflects a common numbering system of base 10.10

Spell components

Many spells require a spell component of some sort.12 Most arcane or divine spells require a material, somatic, or verbal component, while psychic spells instead require an emotional or thought component. Material components can be a consumed ingredient, or a reusable focus determined by classes.5

Valmallos, the Answering Rite, is a primordial inevitable who understands all laws of magic and regulates its usage to ensure it is inaccessible to those who fail to put sufficient practice and training to wield it responsibly. Scholars believe the complex array of spell components so prevalent in magic are at least partially Valmallos's responsibility.131415


To cast a spell with material spell components, the spellcaster must be able to touch or hold a required ingredient or focus. Consumed material ingredients are often related to a spell's function; for instance, invoking the fly spell can consume a feather from an avian creature's wing.16 An arcane or divine focus is reusable, and a divine focus is typically in the form of a deity's holy symbol or a sacred natural plant.5

Spellcasters who require material components keep them close at hand for easy access, often in a well organized, belt-bound pouch.5


To cast a spell with somatic spell components, the spellcaster must be able to perform precise hand movements with at least one free hand.5

Lem emits a verbal cacophonous call.


To cast a spell with verbal spell components, the spellcaster must be able to speak an incantation in a strong voice. Spellcasters who are unable to hear are more likely to fail as unable to speak when casting spells with verbal components.5


To cast a spell with emotional spell components, the spellcaster must be able to enter and control a specific emotional state. Emotional components replaced somatic components in psychic magic.17


To cast a spell with thought spell components, the spellcaster must envision a specific mental construct. Thought components replace verbal components in psychic magic.17


Complex spells can take a considerable amount of time to cast and cannot be interrupted. Such spells require considerable concentration to cast and can be disrupted by physical or mental distractions. Vigorous motion, foul weather, combat, physical restraints, and injuries can all disrupt a spellcaster's concentration.4

Effects of spellshaping

Spells can be empowered through the use of ancient techniques known as spellshaping.18


A spellcaster can counterspell another spellcaster's attempt to cast a spell, by casting the same spell at the same time in opposition. If the counterspeller is successful, neither spell's effects manifest.19

Magic items

Spells are closely tied to magic items. Magic items require their creators to know certain spells, and some items—particularly potions, rods, scrolls, staves, and wands—can store and be used to cast or reproduce spells and spell effects.20 Spells can also be infused with poisons through potionmaking techniques to combine debilitating effects.21

Alchemical extracts and formulae

See also: Alchemy

Alchemists' extracts, while magical, are not "spells" in the technical sense. They are material representations of a spell's effect and are crafted from formulae that resemble written spells.[citation needed]

Magic-user and spellcaster

Magic-user (sometimes spelled "magic user") and spellcaster are generic terms used to describe anyone capable of casting spells.22232425262728

Ritual magic

See also: Category:Occult rituals and Category:Rituals (Second Edition)

Not all spells require the expertise of a trained spellcaster. Spells of ritual magic, commonly referred to as rituals, can be performed by anyone willing to part with the time and resources they require.2930


Paizo published a sourcebook, Secrets of Magic, containing in-universe fiction exploring the nature of magic in the Pathfinder campaign setting.

For additional as-yet unincorporated sources about this subject, see the Meta page.

  1. Logan Bonner, et al. “7: Spells” in Core Rulebook, 297. Paizo Inc., 2019
  2. Logan Bonner, et al. Spells” in Player Core, 298. Paizo Inc., 2023
  3. The Pathfinder First Edition Core Rulebook featured arcane and divine magic as major types of magic. Occult Adventures added psychic magic as well as occult rituals and rules. Pathfinder Second Edition reformed types of magic into four magical traditions—arcane, divine, occult, and primal. Secrets of Magic reinforced these traditions with in-universe works and also added less-common forms of magic that include cathartic, shadow, and Thassilonian rune magic, elementalism, and geomancy. See also the Pathfinder Second Edition Core Rulebook pg. 297 and Player Core pg. 298.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Jason Bulmahn, et al. “Combat” in Core Rulebook, 206. Paizo Inc., 2009
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Jason Bulmahn, et al. “Magic” in Core Rulebook, 213. Paizo Inc., 2009
  6. Jason Bulmahn, et al. “Magic” in Core Rulebook, 214. Paizo Inc., 2009
  7. Pathfinder Design Team. (October 16, 2015). Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook Frequently Asked Questions, Paizo FAQs.
  8. Jason Bulmahn, et al. “Magic” in Core Rulebook, 216. Paizo Inc., 2009
  9. Logan Bonner, et al. “5: Book of Unlimited Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 242. Paizo Inc., 2020
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 9. Paizo Inc., 2020
  11. Logan Bonner, et al. “1: Essentials of Magic” in Secrets of Magic, 10–11. Paizo Inc., 2020
  12. The Pathfinder Second Edition Remaster Project removed mechanics for specific categories of spell components, such as material, somatic, verbal, etc., that were present in Pathfinder First Edition and Second Edition. Remastered spells and rituals can still have mechanical requirements that resemble these components, such as concentrate and manipulate actions or components with a total cost in gold pieces, as indicated in their descriptions. See Pathfinder Core Preview pg. 5 and the Spells chapter in Player Core.
  13. John Compton, et al. “Auditors of the Absolute” in Concordance of Rivals, 19. Paizo Inc., 2019
  14. Paizo Inc., et al. “Demigods and Other Divinities” in Gods & Magic, 89. Paizo Inc., 2020
  15. Paizo Inc., et al. “Appendix” in Gods & Magic, 130. Paizo Inc., 2020
  16. Jason Bulmahn, et al. “Spells” in Core Rulebook, 284. Paizo Inc., 2009
  17. 17.0 17.1 Jason Bulmahn, et al. “Chapter 4: Psychic Magic” in Occult Adventures, 144. Paizo Inc., 2015
  18. Jason Nelson, et al. “Variant Magic” in Inner Sea Magic, 9. Paizo Inc., 2011
  19. Jason Bulmahn, et al. “Combat” in Core Rulebook, 207. Paizo Inc., 2009
  20. e.g.Tanya DePass, et al. Absalom and Starstone Isle” in World Guide, 17. Paizo Inc., 2019
  21. Ron Lundeen, et al. “Black Market Poisons” in Black Markets, 12. Paizo Inc., 2015
  22. F. Wesley Schneider. “Artifacts in Your Game” in Artifacts & Legends, 4. Paizo Inc., 2012
  23. F. Wesley Schneider. “Legendary Artifacts” in Artifacts & Legends, 22. Paizo Inc., 2012
  24. F. Wesley Schneider. “Lesser Artifacts” in Artifacts & Legends, 61. Paizo Inc., 2012
  25. F. Wesley Schneider, et al. “Chapter 2: Running a Game” in GameMastery Guide, 52. Paizo Inc., 2010
  26. F. Wesley Schneider, et al. “Chapter 4: Nonplayer Characters” in GameMastery Guide, 91. Paizo Inc., 2010
  27. Paizo Inc., et al. “Monsters A to Z” in Bestiary 3, 44. Paizo Inc., 2011
  28. Howard Andrew Jones. Stalking the Beast. Paizo Inc., 2013
  29. Logan Bonner, et al. “7: Spells” in Core Rulebook, 408. Paizo Inc., 2019
  30. Logan Bonner, et al. “3: Spells” in Secrets of Magic, 147. Paizo Inc., 2020