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Marionette Possession seems to leave many things unexplained, in part because the summary text relates it to Magic Jar but the main text does not.

You project your soul out of your body and into the body of a willing creature.

Is this by line-of-sight (can directly see the target), line-of-effect (nothing solid blocks the path but can't necessarily see the target) or is it like Magic Jar and you only have to know where they are within range?

From the core rule book's chapter on magic, it states that unconscious creatures count as willing, is that why this spell has a will save, despite the rules of the spell specifying that it can only target willing creatures? As why would a creature that agrees to go along with this make a will save to resist this? Or am I missing something?

The text of Magic Jar states:

Failure to take over the host leaves your life force in the magic jar, and the target automatically succeeds on further saving throws if you attempt to possess its body again.

Is it accurate to say this 'save once and immune forever' rule doesn't apply to Marionette Possession? Even though the summary text says this spell is "as Magic Jar"?

If this was cast on a sleeping creature would they have any indication that something tried to possess them if they succeeded on all saves against the spell?

If the host body is slain beyond the range of the spell, both you and the host die.

Does this mean that you can move, in the possessed body, further than the spell's maximum range? So if the range was 150ft (caster level 5, without Reach Rod) and you cast it on a sleeping guard at the end of a 150ft corridor from the prison cell you were still locked in. Could you then get up and leave the line of sight of your now helpless body and go exploring around the prison to find a key to unlock your cell door. You'd have about 50 minutes to get back within range but now does line of sight or line of effect apply? If you race back just as time runs out but can't actually get line of sight to your body, even though it is within 150ft, do you "die" as your soul cannot be returned to its body?

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This spell has nothing to do with magic jar, except that the effect is somewhat similar. This spell does what its text says and nothing more or less than that. Based on your questions, it sounds like you might be confused as to how spells work in general. When you cast a spell with a target, you choose a valid target in range to whom you have line of effect and that target is the target of your spell. If you choose an invalid target, the spell doesn't work. Spells can overwrite these mechanics, but they have to specify that they do so. Marionette possession does not specify any changes to the normal way spells are cast, so there aren't any changes from that.


Specific responses:

Is this by line-of-sight (can directly see the target), line-of-effect (nothing solid blocks the path but can't necessarily see the target) or is it like Magic Jar and you only have to know where they are within range?

It's by line of effect, but that's not how line of effect works. "Line of Effect: A line of effect is a straight, unblocked path that indicates what a spell can affect. A line of effect is canceled by a solid barrier. It's like line of sight for ranged weapons, except that it's not blocked by fog, darkness, and other factors that limit normal sight." source

From the core rule book's chapter on magic, it states that unconscious creatures count as willing, is that why this spell has a will save, despite the rules of the spell specifying that it can only target willing creatures? As why would a creature that agrees to go along with this make a will save to resist this? Or am I missing something?

No, that's not why. An unconscious creature would still not get a save, because they are willing. The exact reasoning for the save on the part of the developers is unknown to me, but the save entry is certainly not pointless because many game mechanics interact with spells based off of whether they allow a save or not and of which type. You don't need to worry about the save unless it comes up, at which point what to do with it will be clear. The pfsrd site suggests the save be editorially changed to 'none', since the '(see text)' clearly doesn't apply, but that's sort of up to your DM.

Is it accurate to say this 'save once and immune forever' rule doesn't apply to Marionette Possession? Even though the summary text says this spell is "as Magic Jar"?

Yes. The summary text is just giving you a brief and inaccurate summary of the spell effect. The summary text does not dictate the effect of the spell or its behavior.

If this was cast on a sleeping creature would they have any indication that something tried to possess them if they succeeded on all saves against the spell?

"A creature that successfully saves against a spell that has no obvious physical effects feels a hostile force or a tingle, but cannot deduce the exact nature of the attack." (Page 216 core rules)

Does this mean that you can move, in the possessed body, further than the spell's maximum range? So if the range was 150ft (caster level 5, without Reach Rod) and you cast it on a sleeping guard at the end of a 150ft corridor from the prison cell you were still locked in. Could you then get up and leave the line of sight of your now helpless body and go exploring around the prison to find a key to unlock your cell door. You'd have about 50 minutes to get back within range but now does line of sight or line of effect apply? If you race back just as time runs out but can't actually get line of sight to your body, even though it is within 150ft, do you "die" as your soul cannot be returned to its body?

No, that's not how spells work. The 'range' entry has nothing to do with how a spell works after it is cast, unless a spell specifies otherwise. For spells with a target, it merely limits what targets are valid. This text does not let you run around outside the spell's range with your stolen body, you could already do that by default. Furthermore, line of sight and line of effect also only matter when casting spells. You can take over a guard, run the full duration of the spell in a straight line, closing lead blast doors behind you every 10 feet, and then get thrown back to your body when the spell ends unless something extra prevents that from happening (in which case you die). The only time range matters in this spell after it is cast is in the case that the host body dies.

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Questions and Answers

Some excellent points are made in this answer but below are some further details that might be useful. For clarity, this answer takes on the question's individual queries in a different order than originally asked. Also, for ease of answering, some queries have been rephrased.

  • The spell magic jar forbids its caster from ever making a another magic jar attempt to possess the same body. Does the spell marionette possession share this limitation?

    No. Although a spell's short description can include information not otherwise present in the spell's description, in the case of the spell marionette possession, the short description really is descriptive not prescriptive: a reader shouldn't take the spell's short description of As [the] magic jar [spell], but limited to line of sight as if the spell's long description said the spell were like magic jar then made exceptions like some effects do. Instead, the short description makes a comparison between a similar spell for convenience, and the caster should defer to the spell's long description to determine the spell's actual effect.

  • Must the caster of the spell marionette possession have line of sight to his target or, like the magic jar spell, can a caster, regardless of line of sight, sense a potential target?

    The former and more. The spell marionette possession operates normally as per Aiming a Spell on Target or Targets, the spell requiring the caster have to the spell's willing target both line of sight and line of effect, despite the spell's short description implying that the caster needs only line of sight.

  • The spell marionette possession has a Target: One willing creature entry. So why does the spell have the entry Saving Throw: Will negates (see text) also?

    It's possibly an error, and, if not, it's superfluous. This Paizo messageboard post points to the spell's saving throw entry as a possible erratum, and former designer Sean K. Reynolds agrees here, but this remains currently unaddressed by the Ultimate Magic FAQ or errata. That is, a willing creature receives no saving throw against the spell, and a caster that tries to cast the spell on an unwilling creature sees the spell fail outright. Also, if the spell's subject is initially willing yet later becomes unwilling, the subject, for example, finds itself neither free of the spell's effect nor receiving a saving throw against the effect. (Typically, an effect's target need be valid only when the effect resolves then continues for the spell's duration, although this is sometimes a contentious point among fans.)

  • Can the spell marionette possession target an unconscious creature? A sleeping creature?

    Yes and yes. Aiming a Spell on Target or Targets also says, "Unconscious creatures are automatically considered willing, but a character who is conscious but immobile or helpless (such as one who is bound, cowering, grappling, paralyzed, pinned, or stunned) is not automatically willing." This makes a creature with the condition unconscious a valid target for the spell marionette possession. That a creature that's merely asleep counts as having the condition unconscious is clarified by Paizo creative director James Jacobs in this 2010 messageboard post: "Being asleep is the same as being unconscious." (Note that this GM disagrees with this ruling—for instance, as written, the condition helpless differentiates between sleeping creatures and unconscious creatures—, but this GM disagrees with Paizo's rulings a lot… like the double-secret stealth errata in the spell's Editor's Note that appears to whimsically forbid the spell marionette possession from targeting a creature with the type undead.)

    Officially, then, an unconscious (or, semi-officially, a sleeping creature) receives no saving throw against the spell marionette possession. Thus, because no saving throw is made, the creature never feels a hostile tingle like it would upon a succeeding on a saving throw, and, as a targeted spell, the caster doesn't know that the creature's succeeded on the saving throw. (Also see Saving Throws on Succeeding on a Saving Throw.)

  • When the spell marionette possession says If the host body is slain beyond the range of the spell, both you and the host die what does it mean?"

    If the spell's caster possesses a host when that host dies, the caster returns to his original body if the caster's original body is within the distance listed in the spell's Range entry. If the caster's beyond that range when the host dies, the caster also dies.

    Taken in isolation, the sentence isn't entirely clear. That is, typically, a spell's Range entry "indicates how far from you [the spell] can reach, …the maximum distance from you that the spell's effect can occur," which should only mean that the spell marionette possession can affect a target at up to medium range and, thereafter, the spell persists until it ends, regardless of later conditions. However, taken with the previous sentence—"If the host body is slain, you return to your own body if it is within range, and the life force of the host departs (it is slain)"—, the two sentences imply that the spell's medium range (the only range given for the spell) applies to the spell's effects after its initial casting! This includes the maximum distance from which the caster can reenter his original body if the host body is slain so that the caster isn't killed by proxy.

    This secondary use of the spell's Range entry makes no specific mention of the caster needing line of sight, line of effect, or both for the caster to reenter his original body, but it's better to find out the GM's ruling on the topic before employing the spell!

    Finally, ask the GM if this spell's secondary range can be changed by effects that change the spell's range, like the feat Enlarge Spell.

Putting it all together

Just in case, below is an example of these pieces in play.

Example

Jailed for a crime he didn't commit (as is his wont), Abe the thaumaturgist, a level 5 wizard, decides to escape. He waits for the guard to fall asleep, which the guard does 100 ft. from Abe's cell. Abe wants to cast on the guard the spell marionette possession. Abe and the guard make initiative checks, and, as the sleeping guard is unaware of Abe's presence, Abe gets a surprise round. Abe takes a standard action to cast the spell marionette possession.

Having earlier learned his guard's name from another loquacious guard, Abe's already scrawled in his own blood on a piece of smuggled paper his guard's name to meet the spell's focus component. He meets the spell's somatic component by gesturing appropriately and "speak[s the spell's verbal component] in a strong voice." The GM rules that the guard makes a Perception skill check (normally DC 0 but +1 per 10 ft. between Abe and the guard and +10 because the guard's asleep so DC 20) to be awakened by the vocal component of Abe's spell. The guard fails.

(Had the guard succeeded on the Perception check, this GM would've had the guard awaken in the midst of Abe casting the spell, and Abe's spell would've failed, its target invalid, unless, for some reason, the guard opted to be a willing target of Abe's marionette possession spell!)

Fortunately, the ill-designed cell has 1-ft.-apart bars, so the cell doesn't block Abe's line of effect, and the guard didn't extinguish the antechamber's common lamps, so, while the dim light provides the guard with concealment, he lacks total concealment; Abe has line of sight to him. The guard's remained asleep (therefore equivalent to unconscious), making him a valid target for the spell marionette possession. Abe's spirit travels the 100 ft. from his body to enter the guard's body, leaving his original body helpless and unaware.

Abe-in-the-guard's-body spends 49 minutes and 9 rounds making Perception checks to search the cells' antechamber the for the key to his cell (taking 20 on his Perception check in 24 of the antechamber's squares and taking 10 on 19 of the squares, making 5-ft. steps to travel from one square to the next) but comes up empty. One round before the spell's duration is to expire, Abe-in-the-guard's-body finds himself 315 ft. from his original body! Abe takes a full-round action action to run 120 ft. then a swift action to activate his quick runner's shirt to move another 30 ft. At the end of his turn, he's stranded 165 ft. from his original body, 15 ft. short of the spell's maximum range of 150 ft.

Abe's spell's duration expires, and, regretting not having purchased boots of striding and springing, Abe dies. The guard, freed from Abe's spell's effect yet still technically asleep, collapses to the floor. The GM rules that this automatically awakens the guard, who wonders A) why he's on the floor, B) 15 ft. from the chair where he fell asleep, and C) why Abe, in the antechamber's dim light, looks to be dead in his cell. The guard extracts the cell's key from his pocket and opens the cell to check on Abe.

Also, the GM could have ruled that actions Abe-in-the-guard's-body takes could possibly wake up the life force that's asleep in Abe's host! In such a case, the GM would make on the host's behalf Perception skill checks (normal DC +10 for being asleep) at the usual opportunities (such as when the body moves, likely forcing Abe to resort to his own Stealth skill to avoid waking his sleeping passenger). Were the host to awaken, the spell's duration continues, but, thereafter, the host creature can "use its senses," and caster and host "can communicate telepathically as if using a common language." This might cause the GM to impose on Abe penalties for distraction now that he's sharing the present body with a confused, helpless, irritated, and—most of all—reluctant soul.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Couldn't Abe just use a standard action to go back to his body when one round remained? And wouldn't he automatically return to his body when the spell ended, despite being out of range, since the guard is not dead? \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jun 27 '17 at 22:13

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