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In the rules for magic, I came across this interesting line:

If a spell has multiple versions, you choose which version to use when you cast it. You don’t have to prepare (or learn, in the case of a bard or sorcerer) a specific version of the spell.

What exactly qualifies as a "version", and what does this mean for prepared casters? I assume 'greater', 'lesser', 'mass', and 'communal' variants of spells are separate versions, but how does this apply to learning, preparing, and casting spells?

I've always operated under the understanding that, for example, Lesser Restoration and Restoration were two separate spells that must be learned and prepared separately.

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2 Answers 2

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Pathfinder took this sentence verbatim from the d20 System (under the OGL), which took it verbatim from Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5 revised edition (as the authors of the d20 System were also the copyright holders for D&D 3.5e).

However, the d20 System was pretty strictly limited to just the rules themselves—a lot of commentary, examples, illustrations, and so on were left out of the System Reference Document. Thus, the original context for this statement:

If a spell has multiple versions, you choose which version to use when you cast it. You don’t have to prepare (or learn, in the case of a bard or sorcerer) a specific version of the spell. For example, resist energy protects a creature from fire, cold, or other energy types. You choose when you cast the spell which energy type it will protect the subject from.

(Player’s Handbook, D&D 3.5e, 2004, pg. 170)

To my mind, however, resist energy isn’t the best example they could have chosen. To my mind, the best examples of spells with multiple versions are dispel magic:

You choose to use dispel magic in one of two ways: a targeted dispel or a counterspell.

  • Targeted Dispel: […]

  • Counterspell: […]

and greater dispel magic:

You choose to use greater dispel magic in one of three ways: a targeted dispel, area dispel, or a counterspell:

  • Targeted Dispel: […]

  • Area Dispel: […]

  • Counterspell: […]

When you learn or prepare dispel magic or greater magic, you get both (all three) of these versions. You do not have prepare targeted dispel magic or learn greater area dispel magic, you just prepare dispel magic or learn greater dispel magic, and cast it as whichever version you want.

Dispel magic and greater dispel magic also illustrate a case where things are not simply “versions” of one spell: that is, dispel magic and greater dispel magic are not versions of one another. They are separate spells. Related spells, of course, but separate, which means you do have to prepare or learn them separately.

Likewise, your examples of restoration and lesser restoration, and other qualifiers, such as the “mass” or “communal,” are not versions; those are separate spells.

In short: if it is one spell entry, with one set of school, descriptors, level, and so on, just listed within the one spell description, those are versions of one spell. Those are what the quote refers to. If they are separate spell entries, with their own name, levels, and so on, then they are not, and you need to learn/prepare those separately.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree that this is how these spells function, but I don't know if I'm convinced that this is what the rule is referring to as 'versions'. Is there any other supporting rules text that can back up this answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – baphomet
    Nov 17, 2021 at 23:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @baphomet Fair enough: how’s it look now? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Nov 17, 2021 at 23:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's probably worth noting that there are a bunch of psychic spells that have an exception: learning one of the set also lets you cast all lower-level forms. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 18, 2021 at 1:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan great explanation. Good catch on the omitted example from 3.5. I figured it was probably something like that. \$\endgroup\$
    – baphomet
    Nov 18, 2021 at 4:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sideromancer or the core D&D 3.5e spell Polymorph Any Object that can function as several other lower level spells of the caster so wishes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Nov 19, 2021 at 17:57
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I've always operated under the understanding that, for example, Lesser Restoration and Restoration were two separate spells that must be learned and prepared separately.

Your initial understanding is correct: Lesser Restoration and Restoration are entirely separate spells and not merely the same version of one another.


This line of the rules actually applies to a few spells where the caster can make specific choices about the spell. An example are the spells Form of the Alien Dragon and Form of the Exotic Dragon, where the caster chooses to become an "esoteric or outer dragon" / "imperial or primal dragon". These spells are good examples, because the spells contain text that specifically restricts Psychics / Druids to certain versions of the spell:

Form of the Alien Dragon: You become a Medium esoteric or outer dragon. Psychics can choose from the esoteric dragon (astral, dream, etheric, nightmare, or occult) forms only.

Form of the Exotic Dragon: You become a Medium imperial or primal dragon. Druids can choose from the primal dragon (brine, cloud, crystal, magma, or umbral) forms only.

All other casters can cast any version of the spell, i.e. they can freely choose which dragon to polymorph into.

There are also other spells like Create Demiplane, that have two versions of the spell:

This spell functions as create lesser demiplane, except the area is larger and you can add more features to the plane. You can use this spell to expand a demiplane you created with create lesser demiplane (you do not need to create an entirely new plane using this spell), in which case it has a duration of 1 day/level. Alternatively, when cast within your demiplane, you may add (or remove) one of the following features to your demiplane with each casting of the spell, in which case it has an instantaneous duration.

or the famous "divine Wish" spell Miracle:

Alternatively, a cleric can make a very powerful request. Casting such a miracle costs the cleric 25,000 gp in powdered diamond because of the powerful divine energies involved. Examples of especially powerful miracles of this sort could include the following:

These "alternatively" sections indicate such other versions of using the spell.

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