As per symbol of death, symbol spells can have one or more of the following triggers:

  1. Creature looks at a symbol
  2. Creature reads a symbol
  3. Creature touches a symbol
  4. Creature passes over a symbol
  5. Creature passes through a portal bearing a symbol

Presumably, there wouldn't be any issues with an incorporeal creature such as a ghost triggering 1 or 2, as it can see normally unless specified otherwise and I don't believe there's any reason for its sight to work unusually. With regards to 3-5, however, are there any quirks that I should keep in mind? Does an incorporeal creature passing through a door still trigger #5? Can an incorporeal creature passing through a wall trigger #3?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you will have to edit the question to use a different symbol as the example, if you want to get proper discussion of these five points, since undead are immune to symbol of death anyway. (The Undead creature type grants "Immunity to [...] death effects".) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 12 '15 at 17:14
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie While the overwhelming majority of incorporeal creatures are undead, it’s not strictly required. Animate dreams are incorporeal outsiders, colors out of space are incorporeal oozes of all things, and dust form makes the caster incorporeal. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Mar 12 '15 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That's a good point I overlooked. The 'such as a ghost' + 'symbol of death' leads me to believe the asker is thinking specifically of undead, but the general principle doesn't, yeah. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 12 '15 at 17:37

#3 is the only one that incorporeal creatures cannot do

Incorporeal creatures cannot touch the physical world; that is why they have Str —. They can only touch ghost touch objects. This is, more-or-less, the only inherent function of being incorporeal. An incorporeal creature still can see (#1 and #2) and has a location/space (#4 and #5).

Many incorporeal creatures have a way to optionally “manifest” to touch things, so those creatures could touch a symbol if for some reason they wished to do so. This is not a default ability inherently granted by being incorporeal, however.

Furthermore, most incorporeal creatures are undead, which means they are immune to many spells – including the symbols of death, insanity, and sleep. Again, this is because they are undead, not because they are incorporeal. Incorporeal-but-living creatures would be affected by these spells as normal (at least, assuming nothing else is protecting them, e.g. death ward or mind blank).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Casper: "I can't push the frobnicate button!" Mage: "Drat, looks like I'll have to find some way to work ghost touch into a symbol of frobnication!" \$\endgroup\$ – Shalvenay Mar 12 '15 at 22:03

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