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The dread witch prestige class offers the ability fearful empowerment:

Fearful Empowerment (Su): Starting at 3rd level, once per day you can add the fear descriptor to any spell you cast that has some sort of visual manifestation. For example, you could apply it to a fireball, to a summon monster spell, or to any visual illusion, but not to charm person, since that spell does not directly create any visual effect. Creatures targeted by a spell modified by fearful empowerment must make a Will save (DC equal to 10 + your class level + your Cha modifier) or become shaken for 1d4 rounds; this is in addition to any other effects the spell might have. Your save DC bonuses from master of terror apply to this spell.

(Heroes of Horror, pg. 98-99)

Explicitly noted here is that fearful empowerment works with a summon monster spell, but then the effect of fearful empowerment is to attempt to render shaken anyone “targeted by a spell modified by fearful empowerment.”

Summon monster doesn’t target any creatures; it summons a monster. How does a fearfully-empowered summon monster work? Is everyone attacked by the creature, or otherwise targeted by its abilities, subject to the effect? Or is it merely that being in the presence of such a summoning that’s frightful—and if so, how close must one be? Do you have to be able to see it?

I suspect the strict RAW answer here is simply “you can cast a fearfully-empowered summon monster spell, since summon monster is explicitly a legal subject of the fearful empowerment ability, but since summon monster never targets anyone, no one is actually subject to the fearful empowerment effect and you just wasted your daily usage of the ability.” That being the case, does anyone have any experience running a dread witch actually using a fearfully-empowered summon monster to some actual effect? What are the pros and cons of running things that way—is that how you would still run things? Is there a solid best practice to follow here? Or is “just pick something else” really the best answer here?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually the other spells given in the ability‘s description also don‘t target creatures – fireball affects an area and visual illusions in - most cases – too. So it‘s really hard to tell, what "targeted“ means here. My guess would be that it refers to all forms of interaction – taking damage, being attacked, making a save ... \$\endgroup\$ – Peregrin Took Dec 17 '20 at 0:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeregrinTook That... is a very good point. Fireball, we can say that area is its “targeting” and it’s fairly clear that the “creatures targeted” by it are the ones potentially subject to its damage, but a lot of illusions don’t force a save or anything until they are interacted with—seems kind of weird that there’d be no fearfully-empowered effect on them until then? And is that targeting? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 17 '20 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the case of summon monster, I felt there were two reasonable outcomes: one, seeing the summon, or two, first character targeted by the summon. Given that it is a once per day ability, I lean toward the area effect of whomever sees the now scary effect. I imagine the witch calling upon the 'ancient spirits of evil' or something equally dramatic. Snarf. \$\endgroup\$ – nijineko Dec 17 '20 at 5:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Concerning illusions: the Nightmare Spinner from Complete Mage has a similar ability called Nightmare Phantasm. Figment or glamer spells make creatures become shaken – but only if they interact and make a will save. \$\endgroup\$ – Peregrin Took Dec 17 '20 at 8:50
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There are two important points in this ability description:

you can add the fear descriptor to any spell you cast that has some sort of visual manifestation

Creatures targeted by a spell modified by fearful empowerment must make a Will save (DC equal to 10 + your class level + your Cha modifier) or become shaken for 1d4 rounds

These two items are not related. Unfortunately, as written, at best a fearfully-empowered summon monster would have no effect. At worst, the summoned creature itself would actually be shaken since it is technically the target of the summon monster spell.

It is probably fair to say that the intent of the ability was to make shaken any creature who was affected by a visual spell's effect as long as it was an active effect (e.g. monster attacks, fireball damages as opposed to illusory wall just being a giant passive wall of fear), but it is not worded as such. Ultimately, this ability is one that allows you to apply it to spells that will receive no benefit from it. Buyer beware.

However, there may be some beneficial interaction with other feats and abilities that may require the fear descriptor, so that could be useful for getting a fear descriptor on a spell that otherwise would never have it. I do not have any examples offhand of such a situation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don’t really feel like this answer adds a whole lot that wasn’t already in the question? The last paragraph is a fair point, but a bit tangential. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 17 '20 at 22:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan you very frequently add tangential info in your answers :-) Btw, I specifically answered your question, so I'm not sure what you were expecting. . . summon monster has no effect but might be shaken itself . . . \$\endgroup\$ – Wannabe Warlock Dec 18 '20 at 0:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Master of Terrors ability of the dread whitch increases the save DC of all spells with the fear descriptor – so there is a beneficial interaction (for spells that allow a save …) \$\endgroup\$ – Peregrin Took Dec 18 '20 at 9:32

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