News / Kim Frandsen

The Art of Illusion

The Art of Illusion

Hi everyone,


My name is Kim, I’m one of the members of the Fat Goblin’s Hoarde, and this is my first blogpost here on the FGG website. I’m the author of 2 of FGG’s publications (Astonishing Races: Samsaran and Sidebar #31 - Non-Combat XP & Non-Monetary Rewards), with more to come.
Samsaran!

Today though, I’ve been asked to do something a little different, and write up a post on Illusion magic, something that I’ve been playing around with in my head for some time now.

First though, we need to attend to the matter of what MAKES an illusionist. If we take our modern dictionary it defines an illusionist as “a person who performs tricks that deceive the eye”. If we look at the more fantastic definition of we can go to Paizo’s definition “Illusionists use magic to weave confounding images, figments, and phantoms to baffle and vex their foes.”

As you can see both of these make sense within their limited context, but the illusionist is, to me, both a combination of the two and more than the whole of them. As such I’d define them more along the lines of “Illusionists use magic and tricks to deceive the eye and the mind, conjure up images of the impossible and use these to misdirect, mislead and defeat their enemies”.

Now, Illusion is one of the magic schools that have 5 subschools (figment, glamer, pattern, phantasm and shadow), each of which has its own strength and purpose. I’ve chosen to briefly summarize them below, and give an example of where you can experience something that resembles this.



Figments create false sensations. – This could in effect be anything sensory, but it would need to be something that can be experienced by multiple people, which would usually be sight, sound, and smell, though you could argue that there might be cases where touch and taste might come into play.

The lowest level example that you can find is the 0-level spell Ghost Sound. Ghost Sound does exactly what is says. It makes a sound or noise, up to a certain level of noise depending on the caster’s level. But where, in my experience, people often think that bigger is better for this spell, I don’t think that’s the case.

Case in point: Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. When they’re in the Death Star, and he is heading towards the Death Star core, he uses a Jedi ability to confuse two Storm Troopers, into thinking they heard something. Ghost Sound does just that, creates a sound, and could easily be used as a way to trick someone into heading somewhere else. In this particular case, you could possibly argue, that if Obi-Wan had chosen a louder noise, the Storm Troopers would have called in backup, rather than checking it out themselves. Lesser really was more on this occasion.



Glamers change the targets sensory qualities – Basically, this means that it changes how something tastes, feels looks or sounds. (As opposed to Figments that create these out of thin air).

Again, looking at low-level spells, a good example is Disguise Self, a 1st level spell. It allows you to change your appearance within certain limitations. You cannot change your appearance beyond a certain height and weight, it doesn’t change your sound and you cannot change your race.

In this case, we can turn to the Harry Potter universe for a good example: The Polyjuice Potion – While the Polyjuice Potion fails rather spectacularly for Hermione, as it doesn’t allow her to change her race (at least in her first attempt), we can see the effect with Harry and Ron. It changes their appearance completely to look like their intended targets, but it doesn’t change their voices, but they look exactly like their targets. (Admittedly the Polyjuice Potion is a bit more powerful than the Disguise Self spell, since it changes the tactile feel of the targets as well, but it serves as a good example).

Patterns create images that enthrall, startles or dazzles onlookers – In effect, this is any type of pattern that would attract attention and cause people to miss whatever else might be going on around them.

The low-level example for this one is Color Spray. You unleash a cone of colors that stuns, blinds or even knocks creatures unconscious. For something like this, I’m going to turn to the Lord of the Rings.

Not one of Gandalf’s most powerful spells, the visuals for this one was fantastic, however, and I dare say that most people who saw it in the cinemas were likely dazzled and intrigued when they saw the Dragon that his rocket made. And the hobbits caught in the fireworks tent were most definitely stunned as well.

Mastering the Art of Illusion


Phantasms conjure up images that only the caster and targets can see – On the most basic level, the caster makes someone see something that isn’t there, but only to that target and the caster himself. Everyone else is unaffected.

For this particular subschool, we turn to Phantasmal Killer, a much higher level spell than seen previously, and much more lethal. It conjure up the most fearsome thing that the target’s subconscious can think of, whatever that may be (with the caster only seeing a vague shape), taking the form of the deepest fears.

Of course, for something like this we turn to horror films, and what better one to go for than Pennywise from It? Having no true form, it takes on the form of the things that scare the children the most, like the monstrous clown Pennywise. (Incidentally, if you want to get back at Pennywise for giving you childhood nightmares, check out Vs. Clowns) – In theory, this monster could take on any form, of whatever of whatever scares them the most.

Another good example would be Scarecrow’s fear Toxin from Batman, making you see thing that aren’t there, and in certain cases, scaring you into insanity and death.

Finally, Shadows create something that is partially real – and are the main damage dealer spells of the Illusion school. These will cause real damage (if not disbelieved) and up to 50% damage, as they are partially real, even against those disbelieving them.

A Bloodshade, an interesting combination of shadow and illusion magic

For this spell it is Shadow Conjuration – a relatively simple spell that summons partially real versions of any summoning or creation subschool spells of 3rd level or lower. As such you could cast anything from Monster Summoning I or Mage Armor to Monster Summoning III or Stinking Cloud. As such it is clear that while it might be less effective than these normally (if disbelieved) it allows for an enormous potential for versatility.
Finding an example for a Shadows type of spell is the most difficult, simply due to the fact that they, by definition, appear to be real, and can actually do damage. So the choice this time is equally unusual. The one we’ll go for is the dragons from the book or film Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. The dragons are real when close to the Wyrmberg (not disbelieved), but the further away from it, they get, the more insubstantial they become (as they’re affected by the disbelief of the world).

Now that’s an awful lot of text to describe the effects of the subschools, but it goes to show that Illusion deserves more attention than it’s been getting.
I have 2 more things I want to address here, though, though they are connected, and that is a particular sentence written in regards to Illusion magic, in this case coming from the Pathfinder RPG “Creatures encountering an illusion usually do not receive saving throws to recognize it as illusory until they study it carefully or interact with it in some fashion.”

This is where it gets muddy, because what exactly defines careful study or interaction? I’d say that the way to carefully study an Illusion spell (at least as a quick and dirty house rule) is to allow for a Perception Check with a DC equal to the saving throw for the spell (if no save DC is given for the spell simply go for 10 + level of the spell + the casting modifier of the caster) and a minute of study per level of the spell. That means that low-level spells are the least complex and easiest to penetrate, while higher level spells require a lot more effort. – Only should they pass this Perception check will they be allowed to save against the spell. (A book example of this can be found in David Eddings’ Sparhawk series, as they’re passing through an illusionary wall, with companions explaining to each other that it is not real, and therefore giving saving throw modifiers).

Interaction with an illusion spell is a bit more nebulous, but it seems to be mostly combat oriented, so a simply saving throw, given on the first damage dealt should reveal it. Failing the saving throw means you continue to take damage as normal. Of course it is possible to interact with thing like illusionary walls, but that would come under the same effect as the careful study.

And with that, I’ll conclude this relatively shallow dive into Illusion magic. Let us know in the comments if you want to know more about Illusion magic.

This is Kim, signing off for now! If you like this blog consider checking out some of the other things I have written on RPGNow!

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