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Me and my party have a plan in our upcoming session, that will need some clarifications on how summoning spells can be used.

Its all about creative targeting with the Summon Monster I spell, let me give some examples :

Is it possible to :

  • Spawn a Poisonous frog inside the mouth of a person while he is talking ?
  • Summon so many horses within a prison cell, that the prisoner will be trampled to death ?
  • Summon an electric eel twisted around the hilt of a weapon or around a door-handle ?

This is all out-of-combat usage of the spell. Im sure some GMs would say that Summon Monster should be for combat only, but it seems weak that a spell only can be cast when the spellcaster is fighting someone.

Im guessing the question can be narrowed down to : how "precise" can the spellcaster target the summoning, and would it be possible to prevent the summoning spell by interviening ? (like the example with the Poisonous frog. Can the target person "feel" the summoning spell ? and if the person closes his mouth while the spell is being cast, will this break the spell ?)

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Regardless of whether you can, some of those creative uses will also call for creative rulings to make them work. For example, summoning a poison frog into someone's mouth would definitely give them a save vs. spells, on top of the save vs. poison if it works, even though SM1 doesn't normally grant a save vs. spells. Assuming it can be done at all… –  SevenSidedDie May 31 '12 at 0:45
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Also, keep in mind the Curse of Reciprocal Exploits: if you can do it, so can your NPC opponents! Make sure that any use is one that you'd feel is fair regardless of whether you're on the giving or receiving end of the summon. ;-) –  SevenSidedDie May 31 '12 at 1:05
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Many years ago, in an Ars Magica campaign - a game in which spellcasting rules are more complicated and open-ended, a player discovered that by min-maxing the hell out of Creo Animal spells (Create Animal), he could become devastating: He would cast a spell to create an elephant (which is ordinarily hard, as it is large), but he would mitigate the level by making the elephant dead and having the conjuration last for only a minute. Result: Dead elephant bombs, dropped from above and vanishing after crushing the enemy. Those were dark times. –  lisardggY May 31 '12 at 5:43
    
Co-incidentally, Pathfinder doesn't have much of a concept of 'combat-only spells,' so I doubt your GM will give you trouble over that. (Admittedly, some spells aren't really very useful outside of combat, but there's nothing to stop you from casting them. Yeah, a fireball is clearly the best way to light that bonfire...) –  GMJoe May 31 '12 at 5:44
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@Zachiel Fireball notes in its spell description "The fireball sets fire to combustibles." –  GMJoe Aug 20 '12 at 6:38
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2 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

All Summon spells fall under the Conjuration school, which imposes additional restrictions.

Specifically:

A creature or object brought into being or transported to your location by a conjuration spell cannot appear inside another creature or object, nor can it appear floating in an empty space. It must arrive in an open location on a surface capable of supporting it.

This rules out several of your scenarios:

  • Summoning a frog inside someone's mouth violates the "inside another creature" provision.

  • Summoning an eel (an aquatic creature) wrapped around a sword hilt violates the "on a surface capable of supporting it" provision.

Most Summon spells also have this provision:

Creatures cannot be summoned into an environment that cannot support them.

This usually rules out the summoning so many horses that it crushes someone idea... If the horses are packed that tightly, it isn't really a horse-friendly environment.

The intent here is pretty clear: The act of summoning is too imprecise and/or slow to use as an attack. Assume you have no more precision than a 5'x5' square, the creature arrives in a neutral pose (or at least one that isn't controlled by the summoner), and that anyone close to the point of summoning can trivially move out of contact.

Making it Work

So let's say that you are running a game and want to allow for pinpoint summoning. There are a few things that you should consider:

  • How does the player "hit" their pinpoint target?

    The common mechanic for this is a reflex save on the part of the victim. If the victim saves, then the summon fails (they've moved the "support" away from the summoning portal). If the victim fails to save, arbitrate the results to taste.

    Alternatively, you could have the caster make a ranged touch attack. If you're a simulationist, you may apply a modifier to this attack or use the variant called shot rules.

  • How do you maintain spell-level balance?

    Basically, this is going to eliminate "balance" within the game. The spells are designed with the assumption that you can't do this kind of thing, so they'll allow (for example) poisonous frogs at a relatively low spell level. Some people really like this. Some people don't. The important thing is to understand that things are about to get a little weird.

  • If I can summon something in a victim's mouth, can I center my fireball on their tonsils?

    Allowing one spell to be cast with high precision means you have to consider casting other spells the same way. How you decide this will depend on your campaign style... Does it give a bonus to the reflex save? Does it increase damage? Or does the extra precision apply only to a few amusing spells?

  • Does the victim feel it happening?

    I would say yes. This gives them a save.

  • If the person closes his mouth while the spell is being cast, will this break the spell?

    Yes. It would break Line of Sight, which is required to cast spells. However, they'd need to make a reflex save if they can't perceive you casting.

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+1, and again for "The important thing is to understand that things are about to get a little weird." –  SevenSidedDie May 31 '12 at 5:36
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There are two points to remember here, one in-game and one out:

In-universe, magic isn't a science, and in most settings shouldn't be a replacement to technology. What this means is that even if our 21st century players know that (for instance) air bubbles in the blood stream can be lethal, that doesn't mean that a 1st level Air Bubble spell can kill someone. As I see it, the spell isn't a general purpose oxygen-mobilizing spell, but the intent of the spell's creator is also a strong factor.

That doesn't mean you can't do creative things with spells - I often do, and think 0th level spells such as Mage Hand or Create Water can be very versatile, but their usage should be restricted to something that matches the spell's intended feel. Summoning a deadly frog into someone's mouth - problematic, since the essence of the spell is to summon an animal to fight for you. Summoning an electric eel onto a door handle, though? pretty cool, since you're sending it to ambush someone. Might be cruel, though, if it dehydrates and dies.

When thinking out-of-play, another thing to consider is spell power levels. If you manage to hack a 2nd level Glitterdust to act as a deadly spell, you will probably use it rather exclusively in combat, making for a more repetitive, less interesting game. Also, you might overshadow other characters, who probably, at around 4th level, don't have any insta-kill powers. This could get annoying for the party.

In other words, use it when it's cool, not when it's effective. It's partially the responsibility of the DM to make sure spells aren't abused, of course, but it's equally our responsibility as players to use our powers to enhance the coolness factor, not necessarily our deadliness.

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