Friday, April 22, 2016

What Does Your Spell Preparation Look Like?

The camp went silent at the sound of the hammer. It struck hard and true, followed by the sound of something wet pattering on the leaves. Three blows, a pause, and then another three blows, each followed by that heavy spatter. There were no cries of pain. No gasps of anguish. Just the slow, steady breathing of the body. Lakonia entered the clearing a few minutes later, throwing the mallet aside in disgust before seating herself near the fire.

"The priest?" Arnault asked without turning his head to look at her.

"Praying," Lakonia said, shuddering. She kept her gorge down, though. She'd wielded the hammer too many times now for the sight to make her truly ill.

"Good," said Bofull, tugging on his bow string. "We'll need all the strength we can get."

"Tomorrow," Lakonia said, staring into the crackling flames. "You can crucify him."

Religion, am I right?
Spell preparation is one of those things we often gloss over completely when it comes to Pathfinder. Just like the days of journeying to your destination, or the amount of stuff you're currently carrying, most DMs just hand wave it away. All they care about is that you prepared your spells, never mind what you did or how you did it.

For some players, that's just fine. If you're looking for a way to make your casting characters a lot more unique, though, it might be a good idea to think about what their spell preparation actually looks like, since the party is going to be seeing a lot of it.

Making The Magic

The general theory behind spell preparation is that a prepared caster, like a wizard or a cleric, has to go through a ritual in order to nearly complete a spell. Think of it like creating a magic bullet, and loading it in their brains. They're preparing a mental shell, loading it with the right ingredients, and cocking the hammer; all that's left to do is pull the trigger in the form of verbal, somatic, and material components. I already talked about those in What Do Your Verbal and Somatic Components Look Like? if you're looking for tips on making the casting, rather than the preparation, more unique.

Every spellcaster is doing the same thing when preparing their spells; going through the motions, and focusing their mind in order to shape the concept of magic into the proper creation, so that it can be unleased into the world when appropriate. The descriptions in the rules when it comes to preparing arcane and divine spells are both similar, and vague. You need to get into the proper, receptive state of mind, focus, and then either go through an arcane form as dictated by your spells, or pray. Whatever that looks like.

Don't laugh, this is totally an option for spell preparation.
The question you need to answer for yourself is what does your character's particular preparation look like?

The Pregame Ritual

Think of your spellcaster as an athlete for a moment. The rituals they're going through are their pregame. Just like someone getting ready to compete will stretch and warm up, both mentally and physically, so too does your spellcaster have to get in the right head space, and turn on his or her A-game.

How do you do that?

Aside from ingesting magical elixirs.
There's no one, right answer to this question. For example, if you're an erudite wizard who is more of a scholar than a warrior, it might be common to find you enjoying what portable pleasures you can while in the wild. Sitting in a camp chair, idly sipping a cup of tea, and flicking through your spellbook using prestidigitation to turn the pages while it sits on a stand is an option. Bonus points if you convince the bard to play a lute or a violin so you have relaxing tunes while you rev up your brain for the day.

On the other hand, say you're playing an evoker who graduated from a war academy. Your spell preparation is written down in your book, but each spell might have a ritual that goes with it. The more powerful the spell, the more involved the ritual. For example, you set up a ring of candles, and then you have to move through that ring. 1st level spells like burning hands might require you to step forward, striking swiftly with both hands to put out a flame. You capture the smoke in your mind, and hold the last moment of that fire going out as the trigger you'll unleash when you speak the command word. For a bigger spell, like fireball, you need to go through a more complex set of forms, capturing the feel and symbolism of fire, using your motions to blow out every candle in the circle before drawing their potential together into your hands, clasping the spell in your mind.

Those are just two examples of what your spell preparation might look like. If you worship a sun goddess, do you prepare your spells at dawn, or at sunset? Do you use the day's first natural light to fill your mind with magic, or capturing the last of her fading glory to keep you bright and warm through the night? You could do that with any prepared caster who happens to be religious. Or, say you are a cleric who worships a god of war. Do you kneel and pray quietly, or do you recite the edicts of your order while maintaining your equipment? Symbolic prayers, like sharpening your sword for greater magic weapon, or polishing your helmet for a protection spell, add depth to a daily ritual that might not otherwise exist.

And if you worship a god of pain, suffering, and darkness? Well... you might need to get crucified before your mind reaches the place you can commune with your god.

What About Spontaneous Casters?

If we hand wave prepared spellcasters, we out and out forget that spontaneous casters have any ritual to their daily preparation. After all, that's the point of being a spontaneous caster, isn't it? You don't have to pick and choose, or go through long rituals... you're always on.

We all know that sorcerers, bards, and other spontaneous arcane casters just need to get 8 hours of rest before they can cast their spells for the day... but what we sometimes forget is that they also need to spend 15 minutes or so after that rest focusing their minds and tuning themselves up (Core Rulebook 220). Bards need to do some kind of performance as well, whether it be lightly humming through their favorite tunes, strumming on an instrument, or going through a prepared monologue while limbering up their voices.

What does that look like? For example, if you have a draconic sorcerer, do you surround yourself with the element associated with your forebear? Do you lie on a pile of treasure? Do you concentrate on your inner dragon, stoking the power inside yourself so that it's closer to the surface?

Those little decisions can say a lot about a character. Not only that, but they transform you from, "that spellcaster we bring along," to, "Blackthorn the Mad, Scion of a Thousand Razors".

Be honest, which name would you rather be known by?

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  1. Thank you. This article inspired me to try something a little bit different in describing the spell preparation for a half-faerie dragon sorcerer/druid with the faerie dragon bloodline and the wish and butterfly subdomains from The Book of Heroic Races. Obviously the character (and the race itself) is more than a bit whimsical and chaotic and crazy, so traditional forms of "prayer" and "meditation" and "focus" wouldn't seem like a good fit, so your suggestions really helped bring the character to life:

    Jonahgold rose from the pile of bags and belongings (he liked to sleep on his few possessions like a hoard) he had stacked on his cot at the local polytheistic temple, stretching his arms, wings, legs and tail, yawning. "Oh Whimsical Grin," he intoned. "Why do you make your followers rise so early in the morning? You are testing me and I do not appreciate it." Groaning, he climbed out of bed and, still yawning, he stepped outside to begin his daily ritual of greeting the new day by meditating on the wishes he was giving up on, the wishes he retained, and the wishes he was adding to daydream of that day. Then, he chased a moth (there were no butterflies up yet) around the courtyard garden of the temple, almost colliding with a group of silent postulants glaring at him for shattering the quiet of the morning. Breathing heavily and sweating, he then went to the temple baths cleaned up, weaving colorful dyes into his blond hair and breathing deeply, in and out, concentrating on making the steam billow and dance in front of him. He imagined the feeling of his colorful wings carrying him through the forest air as he bathed, and felt the draconic magic of his ancestors flow through his blood and breath. Then he went and impersonated a celestial to tell some worshippers of Abadar that a vision had told him that charity would gain their god's favor, barely managing to contain his giggles as the bankers and merchants rushed to seek out beggars to lavish with coins. Finally, he went to the market, picked up an apple... a jonagold, like his namesake... and sank his teeth into the sweet, crisp fruit, humming in delight about at the flavor. Apples were sacred to Arzridalimax, for the god of faerie dragons had himself achieved divinity after stealing and eating a golden apple of another pantheon. When he finished these various rituals, he felt his magic... Both arcane and divine... readied and close enough to call upon. He then gathered his belongings, thanked the temple priests for their hospitality, apologized to the acolytes, and skipped off to the meeting place.

  2. My Maenad (Bard / Dragon Disciple / Arcane Savant) presents herself as a 'Sorceress and Oracle of Dionysus'. She prepares herself by reveling for fifteen minutes; strong drink is typically included, other revels if she's in the mood. Boggles other players, because the GM allows neither Sorcerers nor Oracles.

    BTW - the 'Vocal Component' of her spellcasting, since she has no Performance abilities, is swearing (for healing, sonic damage, or summoning) or belching out cuss words (for acid spells; acetic and hydrochloric specifically).