Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Summoning Magic.

Over the course of the last few sessions of the Dyvers campaign my lovely wife has begun to develop here Sorceress into a pretty potent Summoning Mage. Which has been producing some really enjoyable results from my perspective; but I have a confession: I don’t know hardly anything about Summoning Magic.

In the nearly ten years that I’ve been running I’ve only had a handful of occasions when the magic user in my games has decided to Summon – which meant that most everyone else was as unfamiliar with the process as me – so I’ve always been able to just fudge the mechanics. However, with my wife getting really into this process it’s time for me to get off my rear and actually learn about this spell.

So that’s what we’re doing today.
“Summoning: A summoning spell instantly brings a creature or object to a place you designate. When the spell ends or is dispelled, a summoned creature is instantly sent back to where it came from, but a summoned object is not sent back unless the spell description specifically indicates this. A summoned creature also goes away if it is killed or if its hit points drop to 0 or lower. It is not really dead. It takes 24 hours for the creature to reform, during which time it can’t be summoned again.

“When the spell that summoned a creature ends and the creature disappears, all the spells it has cast expire. A summoned creature cannot use any innate summoning abilities it may have, and it refuses to cast any spells that would cost it XP, or to use any spell-like abilities that would cost XP if they were spells.” (Wizards of the Coast, 3.5 SRD, Magic Overview)
Let’s breakdown the salient points from this description of the Summoning Spell. (1.) the object or creature summoned appears in a place of your designation; summoned objects remain after the spell’s end but creatures do not; (3.) you can only summon one of any type of creature and if it dies under your summoning then you cannot re-summon it for 24 hours; summoned creatures will not use spells or spell-like abilities that cost XP; summoned creatures cannot hold any spells once they disappear.

There are some questions about these points that I need to address, though, before we move on to the actual spells.

Summoned Creatures and Their Possessions

According to the descriptor for Summoning magic creatures disappear when the spell ends but objects do not. Does this then mean that if a creature is summoned carrying an item that it will remain after the summons ends?

Not so much.

In the May 5, 2007 Sage Advice column this very question was asked. The Sage (who I believe was still Skip Williams at this time) replied “When a summoned creature goes away, so does everything it came with.

“If it’s holding or wearing something it didn’t appear with, that item drops to the ground in the creature’s space after it disappears . . .” (Source).

Now the interesting idea, at least to my mind, is that as a Summoner you can have your summoned compatriot retrieve most anything in the world, telling them any number of glorious lies, and then watch them disappear leaving it with you. Yet as appealing as that idea might be, the far more compelling idea is that the creature you brought into our world will take your most prized possession, hide it away, and then disappear into another realm where they then guard themselves from your re-summoning them to this realm.

The One True Celestial Dog

There is an interesting subplot working through these spells that had never occurred to me prior to reading the Summoning entry above: that for each of our characters there is only one creature that is ever summoned.

In the text above we’re told that a “. . . summoned creature also goes away if it is killed or if its hit points drop to 0 or lower. It is not really dead. It takes 24 hours for the creature to reform, during which time it can’t be summoned again . . .” (Wizards of the Coast, 3.5 SRD, Magic Overview). Which leads me to infer that for each magic user who summons a devil to do their bidding that there is only one such devil that they can contact.

In the terms of Third Edition this means that each magic user has a magical connection to one, individual, Celestial Dog and that only that single creature can be summoned when attempting to bring in that beast. In other words, though there may be hundreds of thousands of Celestial Dogs roaming about the planes only one of them is connected to your magic user and may be summoned by them.

That is a thoroughly interesting change in how the summoning spells should be thought about. Previously, I had always assumed that when you call on a Celestial Dog that you just happened to pull one from the ether to your side; but by this understanding of the spell you’re pulling the same Celestial Dog each and every time that you summon the creature. So doesn’t that mean you should know his name?

More later.


  1. The one-and-only-one interpretation, while neat, clashes with the spell descriptions of Summon Monster II+, where multiple creatures of the same kind from lower-level lists may be summoned. So I have no idea how the cooldown mechanic is supposed to work, let alone be explained, in these instances.

    Another thought: I had never considered that summoned creatures may actually be dispelled away before the spell duration ends.

    1. A good point, and I'll be dealing with that issue soon.

  2. I like the one-and-only creature idea. Perhaps you could say that to cast Summon for special things like celestial and infernal creatures (or anything intelligent, or extra-planar, etc.), you need the creature's true name. So if you learn the true names of two barbed devils, you can summon two different ones, but normally you just get the name in the version of the spell you learned. Wizards would be reluctant to sell their summon spells, or might even swindle you with a good spell but a bad name ... or an ancient scroll names a demon etc. that has, since the writing of the scroll, been REALLY slain on his home plane...

    1. That's actually a really cool idea Mike! Do you mind if I quote you on that in another post later?

    2. Doh, I thought this comment was eaten. But yes -- quote away, of course. I put it on your blog, so you should feel free to use it!

    3. Ooooh, different scroll texts! Reminds me of how polymorph only works for creatures you've seen in the flesh, and teleportation can fail if you're unfamiliar with the destination. But more than that, this turns any given summoning spell into more of a skeletal form, a meter for incantation, upon which countless mages, gods and magical beings have draped their personal iterations and desired results.

    4. Rubbermancer, you're rocking my face off right now.

    5. Hehe, glad I could return the favour. Your blog's one of my favourite subscriptions.

    6. Thank you for that really nice compliment.


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