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In Jadeite's Guide to Inquisitors, break enchantment is described like this:

Break Enchantment - Not as versatile as Dispel Magic, but works when Dispel Magic doesn’t

For reference, the actual spell description is:

This spell frees victims from enchantments, transmutations, and curses. Break enchantment can reverse even an instantaneous effect. For each such effect, you make a caster level check (1d20 + caster level, maximum +15) against a DC of 11 + caster level of the effect. Success means that the creature is free of the spell, curse, or effect. For a cursed magic item, the DC is equal to the DC of the curse.

If the spell is one that cannot be dispelled by dispel magic or stone to flesh, break enchantment works only if that spell is 5th level or lower.

If the effect comes from a permanent magic item, break enchantment does not remove the curse from the item, but it does free the victim from the item's effects.

So, aside from working specifically against cursed items effects (though I would have assumed dispel magic would work just as well), the main difference from dispel magic is that it has a higher caster level limit for the DC check (15 instead of 10), is of course limited to enchantments, transmutations and curses, and takes a full minute to cast instead of 1 action.

All in all, this seems kind of weak for a 5th-level spell that takes 1 minute to cast. Am I missing something?

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

Two big distinctions, the first of which is not obvious from the spell description: there are spells that specify that dispel doesn't work, but break enchantment does.

A few examples I was able to find: bestow curse, black spot, unconcious agenda, old salt curse, and probably many more.

While in the base rules this was somewhat ad hoc, it looks like they somewhat standardized the idea of a curse in Ultimate Magic, by adding a descriptor to such spells:

Curse: Curses are often permanent effects, and usually cannot be dispelled, but can be removed with a break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, remove curse, or wish.

(Remove curse also covers these, but break enchantment's stats are better than remove curse: it affects a larger number of targets at a greater range, ignores spell resistance... and, of course, counters more than just curses.)

The second distinction is this:

Break enchantment can also reverse even an instantaneous effect.

That's pretty big -- if a spell is instantaneous, dispel magic can't do anything about it. A notable one here is petrification -- that's a transmutation effect that can be countered by break enchantment. Stone to flesh works more reliably, but is a whole level higher.

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Thanks, that looks like exactly what I wanted to know. It still begs the question, is it useful since remove curse is a level 3 spell and a standard action. (edit: just read the instantaneous effect, that I suppose would be the most obvious one). – Chris Nicola Jun 23 '14 at 1:06
Actually the flesh to stone is a level 6 spell, so break enchantment specifically won't work. I'm still at a loss of an example of something where dispel magic or remove curse aren't the better choices. – Chris Nicola Jun 23 '14 at 1:13
@ChrisNicola That restriction only applies if it can't be reversed by stone to flesh. (Clearly they specifically wanted it to be able to reverse petrification.) – starwed Jun 23 '14 at 3:07
@ChrisNicola It does have a greater number of targets, which could be situationally useful. (Also a longer ranger, but given the casting time that won't matter much!) – starwed Jun 23 '14 at 3:10

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