The Illusion school includes spells deceive the senses or minds of others. They cause people to see things that are not there, not see things that are there, hear phantom noises, or remember things that never happened. Among these spells are included invisibility and disguise self. A wizard who specializes in the schools of illusion is referred to as an illusionist.
- Figment: A figment spell creates an image/sound of something that isn't there but cannot make something appear to be something else.
- Glamour: A spell from this sub-school can fool all of the senses, sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and can also make creatures and object disappear.
- Pattern: Pattern spells are similar to figments, but they also can affect the minds of those perceiving them, often with negative effects.
- Phantasm: Phantasms are personal mental images conjured into the subject's mind such as making them believe that they are witnessing their worst nightmare or a loved one. Observers see nothing.
- Shadow: Using extra-dimensional energy, illusions from this sub-school are partially real and can affect the world around them or damage things.
If an illusion allows a save to negate it when it's interacted with, careful sensory perception (such as a search check) counts as careful study and therefore interaction for this purpose.
As with any spell in the D&D game, a look at the spell's header (the tabulated information that precedes the text description for the spell) can settle many questions about how the spell works. For a quick tour of the spell header, see Rules of the Game: Reading Spell Descriptions, Parts Two through Six.
Most difficulties that arise from an illusion spell vanish when you consider a few key elements in the header. These include the following:
The spell's subschool.
The illusion school has five subschools: figment, glamer, pattern, phantasm, and shadow. Each school has distinct properties that define how the spell works. When determining exactly what the caster can accomplish with an illusion spell, first consider the subschool.
The spell's area, target, or effect entry.
This entry determines how you can aim the spell and where whatever you create with it can go after the spell takes effect. Many illusion spells produce images that can't move (or move very far), which limits the sorts of things the caster can do with the spell.
The spell's saving throw entry.
Some illusion spells have a kind of saving throw that poses some difficulties of its own.
If you remember what illusion spells of each subschool can do, you'll avoid a lot of hassles (and dashed expectations) in play. Here's an overview:
Figment: These spells create false sensations of creatures, objects, or forces. A figment always must create the impression of something new. It cannot make something seem to be something else. For example, you can use a figment to create an illusory cover for an open pit (more about this in Part Four). You cannot, however, use it to conceal a trap door since that would be making something seem like something else.
If a figment spell can produce sound, it cannot duplicate intelligible speech unless the spell description specifically says so.
A figment is unreal and cannot produce real effects; it can't deal damage, support weight, provide nutrition, or act as a barrier (except that a visible figment can block line of sight). You can use a figment to fool opponents, but you can't harm them or affect them directly. For example, a wall of figment flames might cause foes to halt or make a detour, but it won't burn anything.
If you create the image of a creature with a figment spell, you usually can make it move around, but only within the spell's area, which usually isn't mobile. An illusory creature created with a figment spell cannot deal any damage. You can send it into combat, however. The figment has an Armor Class of 10 + its size modifier (see page 173 in the Player's Handbook). The rules don't say what a figment's attack bonus is. Your attack bonus is a good default; remember that a figment cannot deal damage or have any other real effect, however.
Glamer: A glamer spell makes the recipient look, feel, taste, smell, or sound like something else, or even seem to disappear.
Beware of attempts to use figments as glamers. For example, you can use a figment to create an apple tree, but you can't use a figment to make your buddy look like an apple tree. You'd need a glamer spell to perform the latter trick.
Like a figment, a glamer can't have any real effects. If you use a glamer to make your human buddy look like an apple tree, you can't pick edible apples from the character.
Pattern: A pattern spell creates a visible magical image. The spellcaster usually doesn't have control over the image's appearance; instead, the spell usually specifies how the pattern looks. A pattern's image has some affect on viewers' minds. All patterns have the mind-affecting descriptor. Patterns have no effects on creatures that cannot see. Unlike a figment or glamer, a pattern can have real effects; however, those effects are limited to those set out in the spell description.
Phantasm: These spells create mental images. Usually, only the caster and the spell's recipient (or recipients) can perceive the image a phantasm spell creates. All phantasms have the mind-affecting descriptor. Like a pattern, a phantasm can have real effects, as set out in the spell description. Also like a pattern, a phantasm's exact details usually aren't under the caster's control.
Because a phantasm exists in the recipient's mind, the recipient can perceive it no matter what its sensory capabilities are.
Shadow: A shadow spell creates something that is partially real, but made mostly from extradimensional energies the caster brings together with the spell. A shadow is similar to a figment, but it can have real effects because it's partially real itself. Unlike a figment, a shadow spell usually limits what the caster can duplicate or depict with the spell.
A shadow's physical characteristics (such as ability scores, Armor Class, attack bonus, hit points, and the like) are defined in the spell description, and they might vary depending on what the shadow depicts or duplicates. Part Four has more to say about shadows.
As noted in Part One, a spell's area, target, or effect entry determines how and where the caster can aim the spell.
Area: Any spell that has an area entry fills some volume of space when it takes effect. Most spell areas are immobile after they're cast, but be on the lookout for area spells that are portable. The silence spell, for example, is an illusion spell with an area (an emanation) that can be centered on a mobile object or on a creature so that the spell's effects move along with it.
Illusion spells that have area entries often affect subjects that are in the area at the time the spell is cast or that enter the area while the spell lasts. This is particularly true of illusion spells from the pattern subschool, such as rainbow pattern. Subjects that merely see the pattern from outside the area it fills aren't affected.
Other illusion spells create a false sensation throughout the area or alter an area's sensory properties. Spells from the glamer subschool often have areas that work this way. Examples include hallucinatory terrain and mirage arcana. Anyone with line of sight to such a spell's area can notice whatever sensation the spell produces, even from outside the spell's area (provided that the creature has the appropriate senses). For example, if you use a hallucinatory terrain spell to make an empty patch of sand look like an oasis, anyone who can see that patch of sand sees the illusion you have created. Audible illusions might remain audible even without line of sight. For example, if you create the image of a creaky windmill, creatures nearby can hear the mill creaking even when it's too dark to see the mill.
Effect: A spell with an effect entry produces something. An illusion spell with an effect entry produces a sound, smell, texture, taste, visual image, or some combination of the five. Spells from the figment subschool often have effect entries that look a great deal like areas. The effect entry specifies a maximum volume for the image (or images) the spell produces.
You can make images you create move around, but only with the volume limit set for the spell. For example, you could use a major image spell to create an illusory guard that paces around a room, but you can't make your illusory guard accompany you wherever you go (unless you stay inside the spell's volume limit).
As with an area illusion, anyone nearby can perceive an effect illusion. For instance, the marching guard from the previous example can be seen and heard just as a real guard could be.
Target: When a spell has a target entry, you select one or more recipients to receive the spell (there might be limits to the targets you can select, see Rules of the Game: Reading Spell Descriptions, Part Five). In any case, all your targets must be in range and you must have line of effect to them. If you don't have line of sight to a recipient, you still can select it as a target if you can touch it.
Once a target receives a spell, the spell's effect moves along with it.
Because glamer spells change the recipient's sensory properties, most glamers have target entries (often the caster or something the caster touches). Phantasms, which affect the recipient's mind, also usually have target entries.
As with illusion spells that have area or effect entries, anyone with line of sight to the recipient of a targeted illusion spell perceives the illusion the spell creates (except for phantasms, as noted earlier). For example, the invisibility spell makes a subject vanish from sight. Anyone looking at the space containing the invisible subject sees nothing (or at least does not see the subject).
Saving Throws and Illusion Spells
Most spells' saving throw entries are self-explanatory; however, some illusion spells have a kind of saving throw that causes a few problems.
Most figment spells (and a few other illusions) have saving throw entries that read: "Will disbelief (if interacted with)." This can prove maddeningly vague, especially when someone decides to start splitting hairs. Anyone who has played the game for more than a few hours knows what a Will save is. But what is the effect of disbelief and what constitutes interaction?
Page 173 in the Player's Handbook covers disbelief in detail. The text there can be summed up fairly easily. If you make a successful saving throw against an illusion effect and disbelieve it, you stop perceiving the illusion and it has no effect on you at all. Illusions from the figment or glamer subschools, however, remain behind as faint, translucent outlines even after you successfully disbelieve them. These see-through remnants have no effects on you at all, but serve to remind you that the illusion is there. It also reminds you of those things with which other less perceptive individuals might have to deal. The rules use an illusory section of floor (presumably a figment) as an example. If you have disbelieved the illusion, you see the floor (light permitting) as it is; that is, with a gaping hole in it. You also see the outlines of the illusion, however, which can prove handy when an unsuspecting ally comes on the scene. In fact, you can convey your knowledge to your ally and grant your pal a saving throw bonus (see Pointing Out Illusions in Part Three).
The rules don't say what happens if you successfully disbelieve a figment or glamer that doesn't have a visual element. It's a safe bet, however, that you remain aware of the figment or glamer without being affected or hindered in any way.
Interacting With Illusions
According to page 173 in the Player's Handbook, you don't receive a saving throw against an illusion effect with a disbelief saving throw until you study the illusion carefully or interact with it in some way. The text uses an illusory floor as an example. The character in the example provided there gets a saving throw by stopping to examine the floor (study) or by probing the floor (interaction).
For game purposes, we can define "studying" an illusion as taking an action (which DMs can choose to make a move action since this is an extrapolation of the rules and not an actual rule) to observe an illusion effect and note its details. Some DMs I know require a Spot or Search check to disbelieve an illusion. That's going too far. Merely pausing and using an action to make the check is enough to allow a saving throw.
Also for game purposes, we can define "interacting" with an illusion as doing something that could affect the illusion or allowing the illusion to have an affect on you. You have a valid claim to an interaction with an illusion when you attack it, touch it, talk to it, poke it with a stick, target it with a spell, or do something else that one might do with a real creature or object.
The key to disbelieving an illusion is investing some time and effort in the illusion. If you decide to ignore the illusion, you don't get a saving throw to disbelieve it. Let's consider the illusory guard from a previous example. The guard is a figment created with a major imagespell, and the caster has left the illusory guard to prowl around a chamber. A character entering or looking into the chamber might react to the illusory guard in several ways, some of which will allow a saving throw to disbelieve and some that will not. Here are just a few possibilities:
The character tries to sneak past the guard. Although both hiding and moving silently are resolved with opposed skill checks, the character really isn't doing anything that could affect the illusion and isn't really interacting with it. It would be best to call for the appropriate checks from the sneaking character and then pretend to make the opposed rolls (the illusory guard cannot see or hear the character). The character doesn't get a saving throw against the illusion. The character attacks the guard. Attacking an illusion is a definite interaction. The character makes the attack, using at least a standard action to do so. Hit or miss, the character makes a Will save to disbelieve the illusion immediately after making the attack roll.
If the attack hits, the character probably should disbelieve automatically (see Automatic Interactions or Automatic Disbelief, below) as the character sees and feels the weapon passing through the figment with no effect (just like swinging the weapon through empty air). If the illusion in question were a shadow instead of a figment, a successful attack would not result in automatic disbelief (there's something solid to hit there).
The character takes a moment to observe the guard's movements. The DM can choose to make this at least a move action for the character -- as noted earlier, this is an extrapolation of the rules, not an actual rule. No check is required, and the character makes a saving throw to disbelieve the illusion as part of the action used to observe the guard. The character tries to identify the guard's uniform or insignia (or simply looks for the same).
This kind of scrutiny merits a standard action. The character makes a Spot or Search check to look over the guard's gear (or possibly an appropriate Knowledge check). A successful check reveals something about the guard's gear. For example, if the illusion's caster included insignia or if a particular uniform style is included in the figment, the check reveals those. In any case, the character makes a saving throw to disbelieve the illusion as part of the action used to study the guard, even if the check fails to uncover any details.
The character taunts the guard or asks the guard a question. This one might qualify as an interaction, or it might not. Speaking usually is a free action, but meaningful communication between two creatures takes up some time.
If the character and the guard are alone and there hasn't been an initiative roll, the character needs to stick around to note the guard's reaction to the taunt or wait for the guard's reply to truly interact with the illusion. (That's the equivalent of a move or standard action.) The character makes a saving throw to disbelieve the illusion as part of the action used to communicate with the guard.
If this interaction occurs during an encounter, the character could speak as a free action, but she probably would have to wait until the following round to attempt a saving throw to disbelieve. (A real creature would need the same interval to respond, probably using a free action itself.)
According to the Player's Handbook, if you're faced with proof that an illusion isn't real, you disbelieve the illusion without making a saving throw. The rules give a few examples of "proof" that an illusion isn't real. If you step on an illusory floor and fall through, you know that floor isn't real. Likewise, if you poke around an illusory floor and your hand (or the implement you're using as a probe) goes through the floor, you know the floor isn't real.
It's worth noting that in both examples the illusion fails to function as a real object would. A real floor is solid. It supports your weight (unless it breaks under you), and you can't push objects or parts of your body through it. A character could create an illusion that reacts appropriately when disturbed (with a programmed image spell, for example). In such cases, a character interacting with the illusion still must make a saving throw to disbelieve the illusion. For example, if you use a programmed image spell to create an illusory floor that collapses when someone touches it or walks in it, that's consistent with the way at least some real floors work and a saving throw is required to disbelieve even when someone falls through it.
The rules don't say so, but if you create an illusion that allows a saving throw for disbelief, you automatically disbelieve it (you know it isn't real because you created it).
As noted in Part Two, you must take some action that could affect an illusion before you can attempt to make a saving throw to disbelieve it. Some illusion spells, however, allow saves to disbelieve even when you don't use an action to interact with them. The ventriloquism spell, for example, allows a saving throw to disbelieve whenever you hear the figment sound the spell produces. It always pays to read an illusion spell's description for such exceptions to the general rule.
Dealing with the Unbelievable: The rules governing illusions assume that the spellcaster is at least trying to create something believable. When an illusion spell allows a saving throw for disbelief and the caster creates something unbelievably weird, it's best to allow an immediate saving throw. You're the best judge of what's unbelievable in your campaign. In a world where dogs breathe fire (hell hounds), immense dragons fly through the air, and wizards can shoot bolts of lightning from their fingertips, what's unbelievable covers a tiny slice indeed. Still, if the illusion caster is just being silly (singing carnivorous vegetables, bloodsucking bunnies, dancing hippos), it's best to just roll a saving throw.
Pointing Out IllusionsEdit
According to page 174 in the Player's Handbook, a character who successfully disbelieves an illusion and communicates that information to others grants those other characters a +4 bonus on saving throws to disbelieve the illusion. The rules don't specifically say so, but a character claiming the bonus still must use an action to study or interact with the illusion before attempting a saving throw.
Using Figments WellEdit
As noted in Part One, spellcasters often make the mistake of trying to use figment spells (such as silent image, minor image, and major image) to make something look like something else. Figment spells don't do that -- you need a glamer spell for the task. You can craft a figment to fit in with its surroundings or to conceal something. Consider these situations:
A party wishes to hide in a dungeon room just beyond an archway. You cannot use a figment to make the archway look like an unbroken wall. You can, however, use a figment to make the archway look like it has been bricked up; the edges of the bricked area will conform to the archway. You also could use a figment to create an illusory door that fills the doorway. You could even include hinges for the door (set atop the frame of the arch) and a big lock.
You wish to draw some bad guys into an ambush by creating a false oasis in the desert. You cannot use a figment to make empty sand look like an oasis. You still can create an illusory oasis with one or more figment effects. You can create an illusory pool of water to fill a depression in the sand, and you can sprinkle the area with illusory palm trees and undergrowth.
If the area is very flat, you won't be able to create a believable figment pool of water, but you might get away with a spring where water bubbles to the surface and soaks back into the sand. A party caught in the open wants to hide from an airborne foe. A figment can't make the party look like they aren't there. It can, however, make them a place to hide. You could use a figment spell to make an illusory house, a grove of trees (with leafy branches for concealment), or even a hill or big rock. The party will be concealed so long as the characters stay underneath the illusion.
A Few Additional Notes on FigmentsEdit
The foregoing examples also serve to illustrate concepts from Parts Two and Three:
Characters hiding behind or under the illusions here need to make saving throws to successfully disbelieve them (assuming they want to do so). The caster, however, knows the illusions aren't real. If the caster points out the illusions, the characters get a +4 bonus on their saves; in this case, the DM might want to waive the saving throws and assume disbelief to save time.
In any case, a successful saving throw against a figment spell reveals the figment to be unreal, but still visible (if it's a visible figment) as a see-through outline. This is helpful to characters using a figment for concealment because they can see right through the figment and also know exactly where the figment is so that they can remain concealed.
In many cases, creatures who are unaware that illusion magic is at work probably will not gain saving throws to disbelieve the figments in these examples. A creature in the vicinity of one of these figments probably would pass right by without taking any action to study or interact with the figment and gain a saving throw. This, however, applies only to creatures passing casually though the area. A creature that is deliberately searching for the party that the figments in these examples conceal probably will poke around long enough to gain a saving throw through study or interaction (or might simply stumble through the figment). Likewise, a creature that is very familiar with the locale where the figments have been placed probably will note the sudden appearance of a new feature and gain an immediate saving throw (because doors, oases, and hills don't just spring up in a matter of minutes or hours usually).
Illusions and Mindless CreaturesEdit
Unraveling an illusion is partly a matter of intellect, but mostly a matter of analysis and perception. Any creature can attempt to disbelieve an illusion because every creature has a Wisdom score. A mindless creature, however, is much less likely to find something just plainly unbelievable (and thus gain a saving throw to disbelieve with no study or interaction) than a creature with an Intelligence score would be. A mindless creature lacks an internal catalog of memories and expectations that can generate the level of incredulity required to evoke instant disbelief.
Illusions and ObjectsEdit
Objects have no senses and no Wisdom scores. They cannot disbelieve an illusion, but they can't perceive it either.
Shadows are a special case. A shadow is partly real and can affect an object just as anything real can. Shadow spells that have a reduced effect when disbelieved generally have reduced effects against objects because objects can't believe them. Check the description of the shadow spell in question to be sure. For example, objects automatically are assumed to make their saving throws against the various shadow conjuration and shadow evocation spells presented in the Player's Handbook. In other cases, follow the rules for object saving throws against spells (in most cases an unattended, nonmagical object doesn't get a saving throw against a spell).
More Fun With ShadowsEdit
In most cases, what applies to a figment spell also applies to a shadow spell, with one important exception: A shadow is partially real. A shadow can have real effects, even when a subject disbelieves the shadow.
A shadow's quasi-real nature can pose some problems in play. Here are a few tips and reminders for handling shadows:
A shadow is only partially real whether a subject believes it is real or not. A shadow's degree of reality is expressed as a percentage given in the spell description. For example, a creature conjured with a shadow conjuration spell is only 20% real.
Certain aspects of a shadow always depend on its degree of reality. These aspects include hit points.
Other aspects of a shadow remain fixed, no matter what its degree of reality. These include gross dimensions (height, width, thickness), superficial details (color, shape, anatomical features), attack bonus (but see below), saving throw bonuses, skill scores, and ability scores. For example, a shadow ogre mage (page 200 in the Monster Manual) that is 20% real has 5 Hit Dice, but only 7 hit points (20% of 37, rounded down to the nearest whole number). Its initiative and speed ratings are unchanged. Its Armor Class depends on whether its attacker believes it is real. The rest of the monster's statistics are unchanged, though some of its combat results will be reduced against foes who have successfully disbelieved it.
When a creature believes a shadow is real, the shadow interacts with that creature exactly like the real creature or object it depicts, except as noted previously.
A shadow creature strikes in combat for full damage if the other creature believes it is real. It likewise has its full Armor Class bonus if the creature attacking it believes it is real. Nevertheless, the shadow has only part of its real counterpart's hit points.
When a creature successfully disbelieves a shadow, the shadow has a partially real effect when interacting with that creature.
When dealing with a partially real effect from a shadow, first attempt to reduce the effect according to the shadow's degree of reality. If the aspect can be expressed as a number, you simply reduce it accordingly. Be sure, however, that you apply the reduction only once to any particular number. For instance the shadow ogre mage from the previous example normally strikes with its greatsword for 3d6+7 points of damage. Against a foe who has successfully disbelieved it, the shadow ogre mage uses its normal attack bonus of +7, but deals only 20% of its usual damage with a successful hit. Roll damage normally, but apply only 20% of the resulting damage. For example, the shadow ogre mage hits and rolls 3d6+7 points of damage for a total of 19 points. It deals only 3 points (20% of 19, rounded down to the nearest whole number). When the disbelieving foe attacks the shadow ogre mage, its Armor Class is calculated as follows: base 10 (unchanged), -1 size (unchanged), +1 additional bonus (+5 natural, +4 chain shirt; that is an unadjusted total +9; 20% of that is 1.8, rounded down to the nearest whole number). The disbelieving foe has to contend with AC 11, touch 9, flat-footed 11. If the shadow ogre mage had a Dexterity bonus, that, too, would be added into the pool of AC bonuses that would be reduced.
The shadow ogre mage still occupies 10 feet of space on the battlefield, and it has a reach of 10 feet. It conducts combat as a Large creature.
You might wonder why the size modifier wasn't altered for the shadow ogre mage's Armor Class. The shadow ogre mage is still tall and broad enough to present a big target, so size still has its full effect (as it would if the shadow combatant were small enough to gain an Armor Class bonus).
Being only part real cannot make a creature a more capable foe. Do not reduce Dexterity penalties when calculating a shadow's Armor Class.
The shadow ogre mage has its full suite of spell-like abilities. Its damage-dealing ability, cone of cold, works normally against a disbeliever, except that the damage dealt is only 20% of normal. Its other abilities (darkness, invisibility, charm person, flight, and regeneration) aren't so easy to handle. I recommend that any ability that affects only the shadow creature work normally (in this case, invisibility , flight, and regeneration). Powers that can affect others or the creature's surroundings (darkness and charm person) have only a 20% chance to work when theshadow ogre mage uses them. Roll percentile dice, and on a roll of 81 or higher, the power in question has its full effect. Otherwise, it has no effects at all.
You can use this method to deal with any ability a shadow creature has. First look to a numerical damage value or AC bonus you can reduce. If there is none, roll to determine if the ability takes effect.
If you are passively aware of an illusion, you don't get a save at all. An illusion covering a side passage, for example, when you're just walking down the hall towards your destination.
If you actively interact with an illusion, you get a save to disbelieve. Active interaction is defined as anything that normally requires more than a free action. Attacks of Opportunity also count as active interaction, despite taking no action. An attack (hit or miss), a Spot check made as a move action to notice something you missed, casting a spell, etc. all count.
If you have evidence (not proof) that something is an illusion, you can attempt to disbelieve it (this takes no action), even if you have previously attempted to disbelieve and failed. You gain a +4 bonus on your save. Evidence is any reasonable, but also deniable indicator contradicting the illusion, such as someone you trust telling you it's an illusion, or seeing someone else's sword pass cleanly through an illusionary creature or object without apparent harm or even being slowed. You only get this one extra chance to disbelieve, and it is lost if you choose not to take it. If you are not already aware that something is an illusion, it may be very difficult to generate evidence on your own, as you will subconsciously react to what you think you perceive, pulling your blows or the like. Throwing things tends to work better than feeling or attacking in melee in this regard (which would only generate active interaction), and even then, illusions that are programmed to interact and respond to the environment generally do not provide evidence of their illusory nature. If you have undeniable proof that something is an illusion, you are automatically aware that it is an illusion. This is not the same as disbelief. However, should you attempt to disbelieve (which you can do as no action, even if you have previously attempted to disbelieve and failed), you automatically succeed on the save (treat as a natural 20 on the die roll and an additional +10 bonus if the margin of success is important).
You only get one chance to disbelieve a given illusion. Disbelief saves are made in secret by the DM. Like Spot and Search checks, you only know (in theory) if there's anything you've actually disbelieved when you you succeed and the DM tells you.
Awareness that something is an illusion is not the same as disbelief of the illusion. Awareness of an illusion lets you act in many ways as if it isn't an illusion, although you still perceive it as such. Disbelief of an illusion has different effects depending on the illusion in question.
Disbelief - Figment: You remain vaguely aware of the false sensations caused by the figment, and can identify them, but you otherwise perceive reality as though without the figment. Any visual effects remain as a faint outline that does not impair your vision. - Glamer: You remain vaguely aware of the apparent changes to the subject's sensory qualities, and can identify what changes appear to be made, but you otherwise perceive the subject as though without the glamer. - Pattern: You can still see the images, but they do not invade your mind. Images created by the pattern appear translucent, allowing you to see through them without penalty, and any other effects of the pattern are negated. - Phantasm: All effects of the phantasm are negated. Any visual effects remain as a faint outline that does not impair your vision. - Shadow: You can identify the creations of shadow illusions as what they are, and suffer reduced effects from the shadow illusions (depending on the effect's percentage reality and the effect in question). Any effects appear as transparent images superimposed on vague, shadowy forms.