I've been thinking a lot about Epic spells recently and I've noticed the following:

  • It has commonly been observed that without heavy mitigation, the DCs and costs for developing and casting an Epic spell are often sufficient to make them not worth using. This if frequently because the effects of Epic spells that are both low DC and low mitigation are inferior to 9th level spells. For the purpose of this question, assume that this point is true and we all dealing with DCs of at least 100.
  • The most common and most easily stackable way to obtain heavy mitigation is to ritual cast. The rest are either hard to work with or not stackable in a useful way.
  • Ritual casting during a battle is unlikely to be possible unless you can somehow cheat your way in to making tens or hundreds of casters aid you during the battle.

Put together, it appears to me that most characters will struggle to cast a worthwhile Epic spell during a battle. I'm sure that you could get some long duration Epic buffs up before a battle, but that's not what I'm asking about. I'm talking about hypotheticals like an Epic Fireball or the SRD's Vengeful Gaze Of God. Aside from the assumption that I've asserted as fact, are there any flaws in my reasoning?

Note that I will not accept the following:

  • Using Epic Spellcasting or some other method to make your stats so high that you don't need to worry about the difficulty of other Epic things.
  • Anything involving Serpent Kingdoms or being a god.
  • Answers based on casting the Epic spell before the battle.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please clarify bullet point one of what you won't accept. I think you mean that 'doing epic stuff' in a battle that isn't spellcasting but is enabled by prior spells doesn't count, but that sounds similar to point 3 of the same list. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 2:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil Point 3 is just there to stress that I want the spell cast during the battle, not before. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 8:42

2 Answers 2


Not really, but sort of

Why not:

In my experience, Epic Spells are eschewed in favor of normal spells not because those spells are difficult to cast but rather because they are difficult to put in items. Epic Level play is an environment I have found generally amiable to levels of optimization other circles frequently scorn, so most Epic level games I have played in have seen unlimited-use command-word wish slotless wondrous items1 used via speech2 (i.e. as a free action off-turn) to replicate lower-level spells. Usually, these items are placed in a very-well-guarded plane of the PCs' creation and accessed via remote messaging devices e.g. command-word-item Sending spells to servitors near the wish device or a relay station. This means that the game functions on free action time with the PC who finished the wish device's turn never technically ending (unless they decide to let it end at some point). Since the rules say:

An epic magic item cannot be created that uses or mimics an epic spell.

You can't normally put an infinite epic spell device into your private demiplane with your wish device.

That said, you can still cast as many epic spells as you want in a round: since you can take as many actions as you want via celerity abuse and epic spells can be cast which require only a standard action, anyone with Epic Spellcasting can use said actions to fuel their spellcasting and, as long as they yet possess sufficient slots, cast an epic spell. The thing is, you have to be an Epic Spellcaster to do that. Usually after giving at-will wish to one's followers, one more-or-less retires from being directly involved in combats, instead preferring to mostly chain-cast spells with the Fortify Seed, and has those followers go about doing the dirty work instead, assuming there is even still dirty work to be had. Those followers basically never have Epic Spellcasting, so they won't be casting any Nuclear Fireballs or whatever.

And, if your Epic Spellcasting character(s) does end up in combat, their opponent is certainly immune to wish and whatever contingent offensive spells the caster had up and is operating on free-action-time as well so the combat has to be resolved before any Epic Spell can finish casting, since free actions can interrupt turns. If the opponent somehow isn't on free action time, that's not a combat, that's a sense motive check to notice the hostile intent of a statue.

In conclusion, then, there's no situation that sees Epic Spells cast during combat because no high-level high-optimization threat is going to wait around for a standard action to finish.

Why so:

That said, a caster can certainly cast an epic spell like Nuclear Fireball or whatever, and do so as a standard action, just like regular fireball. Consider the following spell:

Nuclear Fireball

Seed: Destroy (DC 29) Seed: Energy (+19 DC) Seed: Transform (+21 DC) Casting time: 1 Standard Action (+20 DC) Range: 18,618 or 30 miles (+26 DC) (It's not clear, at least to the groups I play with, whether the range/area/duration modifications are multiplicative or additive in sequence) Area: 4,000 mile or 420 ft sphere (+92 DC) Damage: 100d20 damage, half fire, half untyped (+120 DC)

The land in the area affected burns, emanating fire out to 10 feet for 20 hours, dealing 2d6 fire damage each round to those unprotected. (+0 DC)

All non-magical inanimate material with less than 15 hardness within the area is permanently transformed into sickstone (+0 DC).

Spell Resistance: Yes Saving Throw: Fortitude for Half

So we've got a spell with a DC of 327 to cast. That's not really that bad-- our INT should be increasing exponentially at all times so the modifier alone should be way higher than that-- but it still doesn't have to be that high, and besides nobody is gonna spend entire days on developing this: Epic Spells are only reasonable if their final DC is 0 so you can cast them on the fly.

To counteract this, as you have correctly guessed, you gotta use those Additional Participants to reduce the DC to develop or cast the spell. You could instead use Backlash, but that requires a lot of HD and there's no real reason to.

The key thing to note is that the additional participants can participate across any distance. They don't have to be within any distance of you or even on the same plane; they instead just have to do the right stuff at the right time. This means that a tiny subset of your horde of followers (via Epic Leadership or Legendary Commander or both or the Life seed or normal spells via your wish device or similar) can just all take a free action out of turn to cast wish to cast celerity to give up a spell slot gained via Rary's Mnemonic Enhancer to help you cast your spell with a DC 0 Spellcraft check.

  1. e.g. the following stats from a game from about a decade ago:
The Internet

Wish on command: [9*17*1800+[(5000*5 (base XP) +5000*5 (so we can make items costing up to 125K gp ) + 25000 (so we can ignore material components on pretty much anything)]*100]*2

Total: 7637700 to craft, ETA 3 minutes after the Flowing Time plane is erected. Command word is 'the'.

  1. This rule-- that words spoken in speech might inadvertently or deliberately activate items if the command words are 'easy'-- is a rule that is pretty much only sees play, at least in my experience, alongside the epic rules. That is, most of the time 3.5 games steer well away from both the train wreck that is the epic rules and the train wreck that is free-action off-turn custom magic items. However, when a group employs one of these ill-conceived rules, in my experience, they usually also employ the other. My experience in epic games that don't have free-action casting, thusly, has been limited to two games, one of which lasted around 10 hours and the other never really got off the ground. In both the games instead revolved around maximizing one's charisma score so as to best benefit from Epic Leadership in conjunction with Legendary Commander. Combat only occurred in the first one, which was PvP, and as soon as we realized the full scope of the mathematics involved the conflict we switched to using averages instead of rolling and just talked out how the conflict would probably go. We never continued the game from there. This highlights one of the main issues with Epic games: it's very easy to get in a situation where the best solution is just to drop the campaign rather than running every turn in a 10,000 v 10,000 level 1 character fight with scores of higher-level characters dotting the landscape.

Because of this, most successful Epic campaigns I've been in, like most successful normal campaigns, avoid any on-screen conflict with more than a dozen characters on each side. For Epic characters, this means usually any conflicts need to be resolved via proxy and most activity is performed on the world stage via non-violent action.

If you are in a game with Epic Spellcasting but not free action casting and not Leadership and not Simulacra then you are in a place I've not much experience in, and your casting situation will be different than mine. Consider skipping to the second half of this answer.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that I understand how you can "chain-cast spells with the Fortify Seed". Maybe I've forgotten how chain casting works. I'm also not sure why you'd cast Mnemonic Enhancer for more slots rather than just use the 4th level slot you've burned for Enhancer. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 8:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh, I see. You're using the Life seed to animate a bunch of objects and the Fortify seed to temporarily give both them and yourself massive stats. Because the animated objects don't have spells by default, you're using Mnemonic Enhancer to give them slots that they can contribute. With each success, your stats get bigger, allowing you to increase the range of the spell and repeat the process for even bigger stats until you're satisfied. Once satisfied, you then use your huge stats to cast whatever you feel like or use your ally's now huge stats to have them do what you feel like. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.Mini Yeah, that. It's sideways to the question, though, because that's not casting in combat, it's what the casters are doing instead of combat most of the time. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 0:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wonder how you can achieve a modifier of Spellcraft to overcome DC=327. That's 600+ INT that has become better than all the gods (except those who don't have a character sheet) already. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 22, 2023 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TerryWindwalker see the comments above. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Commented Jun 23, 2023 at 4:09

I would say most of the preset epic spells are not usable, unless you let those epic mages somehow skyrocket their INTs.

Epic spells with DCs higher than 10 + the spellcaster’s Spellcraft modifier are risky; a caster can take 10 when casting an epic spell, but he or she can’t take 20. When routinely casting epic spells, most spellcasters take 10 on their Spellcraft checks.

So to play safe, you don't need to keep everything in DC 0. You just need to have those Epic spells with DC at most 10 + your Spellcraft modifier so you can cast them whenever and wherever you want.

A typical Epic wizard (let's assume in Lv.21) would normally have perhaps 34 INT (+12) and 24 ranks of Spellcraft, perhaps we can add another +3 from Skill Focus. So in total, we have a modifier of +39.

Hence, everything with a DC <= 49 should be safe to play for this wizard. Which means, things like Ruin (DC=27, 1 full round) should not be an issue for you. With a little help (Greater Heroism and alike), Animus Blast (DC=50, 1 standard action) and the like are also achievable. You may also use something that can force your next skill roll to be a natural 20, which lets you access things with DC <= 63 (+39 +4 [morale] +20 [roll]). I remember there are some spells or effects allow you to do that.

On the other hand, if you are aiming at things with DC=100+ (as stated in the question). You will definitely need all the helps you can get. The most likely way I can think of would be to get a lot of low-level mages to use Help Others action to boost your Spellcraft up indefinitely, or just add some spell slots from your helper groups into the Epic Spell itself to reduce the DC.

BTW, I wonder what's your definition of "worthwhile". In many situations, you may just add things like backlash damages to reduce the DC. In epic level, taking 20d6 (which reduces DC by 20) should not be a very hard choice. (I can see some official Epic spellcasters just put something like Let Go of Me (DC=43, free action) to get rid of grapples. I can't stop wondering why they don't just get a Ring of Freedom of Movement instead.)

Personally, I believe a campaign is all about the story. As a DM, I would just use Epic Spells as nuclear weapons that those NPC Epic Spellcasters would highly likely cast in their mage towers, circled by hundreds of lower-level spellcasters, and boost their Spellcraft rocket high to launch it to perhaps thousands of miles away. Then I will just keep them in the storyboard and only use normal spells during the combat (unless I have at least one PC that has access to Epic Spellcasting already).

Also, as for ritual spell, yeah, you should never cast them when your enemy can see you unless you are sure you are 100% safe.


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