Why Its Awesome — Pact Magic

Welcome to the Gibbering Mouth article for March 5th, 2014. Today’s article is a Wednesday Rave; the topic is pact magic!

So I’m going to flat-out apologize for the self-promoting nature of this article. I’ll try to do more “Why It’s Awesome” articles for other 3PP in the future so I don’t look like I’m broadcasting TOO much of an agenda. The truth of the matter is that I was running behind on my blog posts when I wrote this article and I needed something easy to talk about (for me, anyway). So, here we are!

What is Pact Magic?

Pact Magic refers to the Dungeons and Dragon mechanics system that mirrors Goetia, a magic practice that includes the invocation of angels (or evocation of demons). Goetic Theurgy is actually pretty famous: you’ve probably heard of some of its players before. For example, demonic evocations were featured in Ars Goetia, which was written by Aleister Crowley in 1904. As a result, to say that Pact Magic is an entirely D&D concept is nothing short of blasphemous.

Now, let’s loot at the translation of Goetia to Dungeons & Dragons. Pact Magic was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons in 2006 via the Tome of Magic, which sought to provide alternate magic systems for players. Pact Magic involved the binding of “vestiges” to mortal souls using seals and ceremonies. In order to explain why a powerful cleric couldn’t just go around and destroy binders as a class by raising all of their spirits from the dead, vestiges were explained as being otherworldly entities trapped between life and death. In all, pact magic sought to emulate Geotic principals of magic, especially the communion of lost souls and entities.

When Dario Nardi wrote Secrets of Pact Magic in 2007, he sought to bring Pact Magic closer to its historic roots compared to how Wizards of the Coast portrayed it. Then I sought to bring it up-to-date with Pathfinder design goals and streamline the abilities in 2012 with Pact Magic Unbound.

Quick History Lesson: Done.

How Does Pact Magic Work?

One of pact magic’s draws for PCs is that Pact Magic is easy. You don’t need to spend decades of work training, years of praying and faith, or countless magical ancestors in order to perform pact magic. You need knowledge, a steady hand, and a persuasive tongue. After learning a spirit’s seal, its legend, and its ceremony, a binder is able to summon a spirit into the mortal realm temporarily using a mystic ceremony that guides the spirit to the binder. Once the spirit appears within the seal, the binder attempts to convince it to provide him with its mystic powers. Long deprived of the mortal world, the spirit seeks to remain bound to the binder for as long as possible and to garner as much control over the binder’s actions as possible. The spirit of a tortured angel and the spirit of a powerful tyrant have very different wants, after all. The binder barters with the spirit into making the best possible arrangements that he can muster, resulting in either a good pact or a poor pact. A good pact gives the binder the spirit’s powers without suffering the spirit’s influences while a poor pact gives the binder the spirit’s powers in exchange for a manner of control over the binder’s thoughts and actions. Pacts typically last for one day, after which the binder needs to make a new pact in order to bind a new spirit to his soul. One of the highlights of pact magic is that the class revolves heavily around supernatural abilities, meaning they largely cannot be countered. Pact magic makes up for this with a limited number of abilities (you can only have a few spirits bound to you at once) and a limited recharge mechanic for some abilities.

How Does Pact Magic Fit in My World?

Well, that largely depends on your campaign setting but in Pact Magic Unbound, we largely assume that binders are heretics that the world’s religions have actively sought to oppress. There are many theories why this could have happened. Since Pact Magic is easy, anyone can benefit and therefore the importance of deific worship is lessened. In some cases, occultists have done horrible things with their powers and some say that pact magic was taught to mortals by demons. In other cases, it is simply a result of centuries of conflict between groups. Sometimes certain groups are okay with pact magic, especially when the gods or “natural” spirits are involved.

Because of this, Pact Magic is very easy to insert into your campaign setting. For all your players know, it has always been there but was merely driven into exile in ages past. This system gives your cleric something to think about: how does my god feel about occult magic? How do I feel about it? What am I going to do about it? And pact magic often has an awesome, eerie feel to it that is hard to replicate. Players are baffled by supernatural abilities, especially when they come from humanoid characters, who typically don’t have that type of magic.

Well, I hope I’ve given you a little bit of something to think about in regards to Pact Magic. My partner Dario Nardi and I write most of the Pathfinder Pact Magic supplements currently available, and if you want to check it out most of our content is OGL and available to preview on the d20pfsrd.com website. What do you think about pact magic? Is it something that fits into your world or not? Do you already use pact magic? If so, how does it fit into your campaign? If not, are you interested now? Leave your questions, answers, and comments below and stay tuned for a new article with a new subject … next time!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune occultist, and his favorite spirit is Yith’anu.


One thought on “Why Its Awesome — Pact Magic

  1. Hmm… sounds interesting. I’ll have to check out more of this, but I don’t think it will ever see play in my group unless I put it into the game. My group is very wary about anything not ‘official’ and even then, they don’t allow anything ‘new’ until after I’ve poured over it and checked in with the forums to identify any ‘problem childs’ in the books.

    The only 3rd party stuff I know in use at the moment, is the 1001 Spells by Cubicle Entertainment which is, I believe, a compilation of the 101 Spells series by Rite Publishing. Even then, the only reason they use that is because one of our group owns the local Hobby store and he gets all updates from Hero Labs for Pathfinder for free, including the 1001 Spells update.

    But Spells are easy to add to games because they are, mostly, self-contained, while an entirely new class/mechanic is more difficult for them to allow as it comes with all new nuances that need to be explored first.

    Anyway, Pact Magic sounds really cool, I just don’t think I’ll ever get to play with it 😦

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