An interesting point of contention surrounding the definition of a spell-like ability arose whilst answering this question. Are spell-like abilities actually spells?

The question mentioned a Flail Snail, and it's supernatural ability Warp Magic:

Warp Magic (Su): Anytime a spell targets a flail snail, there is an 80% chance that it produces a random effect instead of affecting the snail. Only spells that directly target the flail snail are warped; area effect spells are not affected.

The description only mentions spells, not spell-like abilities. And so the point of contention was made. Even though spell-like abilities are not mentioned, are they still affected?



Spell-like Abilities (SLAs) are "very much like spells", but they aren't spells. While they behave the same way as spells in regards to antimagic fields, dispelling, spell resistance or causing attacks of opportuinty as they're cast, they can't be counterspelled and they have no V, S or M components for instance.

As such, it should be necessary to explicitly name SLAs when willing to negate them. While we can speculate that they work the same way as spells, nowhere it is told that they are affected by the same things (otherwise, they would probably behave the same way even for counterspelling or components) - there are also enough cases of naming them separately into an effect to enforce the effect on them (see Styphon's answer) to exclude the hypotesis of the developers failing to tell us that whatever works on spells also works on SLAs if not explicitly noted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, regarding your edit: this would make Dispel Magic not work on Spell-Likes, because the specific rule (Dispel Magic's description) overrides the general rule (the description of Spell-Likes that mentions Dispel Magic working on them). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 27 '13 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Seven Sided Die. I won't call this specific vs. generic. It's not "Dispel Magic" vs. "a list of things where Dispel Magic belongs", it's "Dispel Magic" vs. "Dispel Magic". \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Sep 27 '13 at 19:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel The spell-like abilities description is not dispel magic, dispel magic is dispel magic. A specific spell is more specific than a general rule about a category of abilities. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 27 '13 at 19:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie apparently I forgot to reply. Disperl Magic's description is the generic rule, SLAs specifically say that Dispel Magic also works on them despite the generic rule. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Dec 4 '18 at 22:00

Though spell-like abilities (also here) are not "exactly" spells, with differences partially described under Special Abilities, most things that just say they affect spells affect spell-like abilities too. Two important quotes from the various bits on spell-like SLAs read:

Usually, a spell-like ability works just like the spell of that name...

Spell-like abilities are magical and work just like spells.

I know we'd like every place in the rules that affects spells or spell-likes to say so explicitly, but it doesn't. The most trivial example of this is that Dispel Magic mentions only spells and not spell-like abilities in its text, but then the rules on spell-like abilities clearly say they can be dispelled. By what, some nonexistent "Dispel Spell-Like Ability" spell? No. By Dispel Magic. Even though it doesn't say "spells or spell-like abilities" in its text, and it probably should.

Some things that modify spells work on spell-likes and others don't, but to flat say "if it just says spells it doesn't work on spell-likes" is wrong, RAW, given Dispel Magic as a very core-rules example. Now, you could try to claim the opposite based on the quotes above that spell-likes work like spells in every single way that's not called out as them not working that way as well - but why remove any discretion or intelligence from your game? This is a place where the rules are inconsistent, they're written by different people at different times and edited imperfectly and don't always do the rigorous thing - so do what makes sense; read these books as English text not as a computer program or legal document.

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Spell-like abilities are not spells. They have their own rules under a separate section (Special Abilities, rather than Magic, which covers spells). Key to point, the description for spell-like abilities reads thusly:

Spell-Like Abilities (Sp): Spell-like abilities, as the name implies, are magical abilities that are very much like spells. Spell-like abilities are subject to spell resistance and dispel magic. They do not function in areas where magic is suppressed or negated (such as an antimagic field). Spell-like abilities can be dispelled but they cannot be counterspelled or used to counterspell.

The key point in that is the very first sentence, they are "very much like spells". That strongly implies that they are not spells, although it doesn't outright state it.

Secondly, there are sections of the book that explicitly state both Spell and spell-like ability in the same sentence. Enough times for me to believe that this is deliberate, and that unless spell-like ability is explicitly mentioned, they are not affected. Simply stating spells is not enough.

Some examples that I have found to support this are:

Damage Reduction: Spells, spell-like abilities, and energy attacks (even nonmagical fire) ignore damage reduction.

Disruptive Spell (Metamagic): Your magical energies cling to enemies, interfering with their spellcasting. Benefit: Targets affected by a disruptive spell must make concentration checks when using spells or spell-like abilities (DC equals the save DC of the disruptive spell plus the level of the spell being cast) for 1 round. Targets that avoid the spell's effects avoid this feat's effect as well. A disruptive spell uses up a spell slot one level higher than the spell's actual level.

Summon Monster: A summoned monster cannot summon or otherwise conjure another creature, nor can it use any teleportation or planar travel abilities. Creatures cannot be summoned into an environment that cannot support them. Creatures summoned using this spell cannot use spells or spell-like abilities that duplicate spells with expensive material components (such as wish).

Clay Golem Immunity to Magic (Ex): A clay golem is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance...

These examples are taken across as many different areas as I could find. The core rules, feats, spells and special abilities. There are more examples available for each of these areas, however I have included only one of each. A google brings up a large list.

This cannot simply be coincidence or an accident. It is clearly by design, meaning spell-like abilities and spells are two different things. Unless spell-like abilities is explicitly mentioned, then they are not affected.


One argument against this point that keeps being brought up is the fact that dispel magic ignores the pattern above, that it only mentions spells. However it is key to note that in the glossary, under the rules for spell-like abilities, dispel magic, along with antimagic field, is explicitly mentioned. Therefore we still maintain the patter above, where spell-like abilities only apply when explicitly mentioned in the rules.

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