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I'm working with my GM to have my character creating new spells for a thematic purpose, based around water. We were talking and he had asked what to consider the differences between hexes and spells. The game has guidance on how to create new custom spells (compare against ones of the same levels, etc.) which seems valid for hexes as well, but there seems to be an unspoken difference between what spells do and what hexes are limited to doing.

Hexes differentiate themselves from spells in a few ways.

  1. They can be cast infinitely, limited only by the number of valid targets and their saving throws. This is one of the core differences from traditional spells.

  2. They tend to be binary, like Evil Eye gives a penalty to various defenses, and Fortune gives a benefit to allies. Others are closer to spells like Shield and Water Breathing. They either work or they don't, or provide a benefit that didn't exist before. Would a Hex that increases based on caster level, such as dealing 1d6 damage per two witch levels, be overpowered?

  3. They can still be used into higher levels, because of their binary nature. Compared to a Level 1 spell, the Slumber Hex seems inherently weaker to the Sleep spell, without the possibility of affecting multiple targets in the same turn. Still, because it's usable more than once and there's no trade-off with spell slots, it's considered one of the most powerful hexes a witch can get. Replacing traditional spells can make a hex particularly powerful, simply because of the opened spell slot.

In addition to these considerations, what should I keep in mind in creating custom hexes? What standards should a hex be compared to to determine its effective power level, whether it would unbalance the game or not? I want to know how to separate a spell and a hex when creating new content.

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Even the "designing new spells" part of Pathfinder is pretty terse (paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/ultimateMagic/magic/…) and this is mainly asking how designing hexes differs from that, so its scope is acceptable for the site. –  mxyzplk Aug 31 at 15:51

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

When designing hexes, the golden rule of creating custom spells still applies:

Compare your spell to similar spells, and to other spells of its intended level.

Now, as you've noticed, hexes are different from spells, partially for thematic reasons but primarily because they can be used at-will, usually with the limitation of "not twice on the same person" (except when a hex has multiple effects, like Evil Eye, then you can use it for its different effects).

Hexes tend to do things that first level spells could do, but powered up in some way - sleep (with no HD limit), ill omen (but not removable via prayer), bane (but -2 instead of -1, tongues) - but often with some other limitation (curse has to match harrow suite, greater planar ally but only ghosts), and they tend to slowly increase in power (either not at all, or at 8th and 16th level).

Major hexes tend to do things a level 2/3 spell could do (nauseate someone, curse someone, shake them, etc).

Grand hexes tend to do things a level 5/6 spell could do (polymorph, reincarnate, finger of death).

Hexes tend to follow these rules:

  1. Hexes almost never do direct damage - they do it indirectly (retribution hex) up until you get to the grand death hex, and even that is a slow-starter. They are enchantments, transmutations, divinations, curses.
  2. Hexes are often complicated multi-round affairs.
  3. Hexes are super flavorful. They are different from the "utilitarian magic" the spell system has become - if there's not great witchy flavor on them, I'd say "no" in an instant.
  4. Hexes don't scale directly with level. There may be an exception I'm not seeing, but "1d6 damage every 2 levels" or whatnot is not witchy.
  5. Because there's only 3 levels of hexes, you have to play with the benefits and limitations to get a given effect to be OK at that level.
  6. Hexes, especially offensive ones, are short in duration - 1, 2, "witch's int bonus," or "witch's level" are common ones.

So to make your own - first, reskin existing ones. Best as I can tell "Death Curse" is exactly equal to "drowning hex" the way it would work in my mind.

Then, compare closely to existing ones and give relevant interesting benefits and drawbacks. Some hexes are better than others, and that's OK - because you can't spam the same one on the same guy. Agony causing the nauseated condition is strictly better than Delicious Fright causing shaken, but then you get the buff out of Delicious Fright to kinda balance it out. And just don't compare against the "awesome ones" - Slumber for example. Just like there's no reason but historical and awesomeness that magic missile auto-hits as a L1 spell, a couple of the witch hexes are leveled up simply because they are awesomely iconic. Yours need to hit the midpoint instead.

If you just wanted a drowning thing that gave fatigue, for example, I'd probably turn it into a similar major hex (not a minor hex - swamp's grasp would be my watery-slow-them-down minor hex) - save to become fatigued (no effect if already fatigued) 1r/level, and then every round they try to do something energetic (move at more than a walk, attack) they have to save or become exhausted and are fatigued even when the curse's duration is over. This is balanced against the Agony (nauseating) hex because it can provide a longer term effect and also is pleasingly similar to retribution and other hexes in that it causes the target's actions to get them into deeper water, so to speak (Oooh, call the hex Deeper Water).

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