The problem with Use Magic Device in Pathfinder

aka Another Reason for a Unified Magic System

I’ve never liked the Arcane/Divine divide in magic in what is now Pathfinder. It worked OK in first first and second edition D&D because there were really only two spell-casting classes, but as third edition D&D attempted to take the classes and make them into certain metrics such as Base Attack Bonus and Reflex Save bonus that are additive, the divide became increasingly wonky. For one, now that we had a skill system that was the same across classes, you had skills for sneaking around. If you multiclassed between different classes, your ability to sneak was related to how many skill points you continued to put into your stealth skills. Thus skills of the traditional Thief class from prior editions of D&D were now nicely delineated and could be treated as discrete parts of a greater whole.

The skill system attempted to do that with magic by giving one Spellcraft skill that related to your ability to determine magic regardless of it’s source, but in so doing they created a wonky element to their magic system because the skill itself was not, in any way, related to the actual working of magic. One could be a completely proficient high level wizard or cleric and not have a single rank in Spellcraft. So it was really just a knowledge skill, but why have one knowledge skill that represents two very different forms of magic when you have other knowledge skills that represent the different between knowledge of local events and knowledge of which crest belongs to the local noble?

Monte Cooke addressed this in his book of Eldrich Might by suggesting that DMs assign a -5 to Spellcraft checks when you were trying to determine magic that was of the kind different that your class gave you. He further addressed it in his own system, Arcana Unearthed when he unified the magic system. Holy casters simply had feats that made their magic more “holy” and Psionicists had similar feats. This allowed for all magic using classes to have the same, unified types of spells, but for some to have a different flavor to them or to be better as casting certain subsets of the greater spell list- which is really nice.

Crafty Games Fantasycraft takes it a step further by having Spellcasting be an actual skill which one must succeed at every time you are attempting to cast a spell- as one would expect. Pathfinder, unfortunately, kept the divide when they updated the 3.5 system and it came up in our game last night when the Bard attempted to save a recently deceased party member by using the “Breath of Life” scroll.

Well “Breath of Life” is not on the Bard’s spell list. No problem, she had a reasonably high Use Magic Device skill. So my fiance, playing the Bard, who is known for her poor rolls, rolls a 14. She has +14 UMD, so her total is 28, which is enough to treat “Breath of Life” as if it were on her spell list. Great… except she also needs to make another roll to qualify as having a high enough Wisdom to cast the spell. Since she’d need a Wisdom of 15 to cast a 5th level spell and since the resulting score you can emulate equals your UMD -15, she’d need to roll a separate 16 to qualify.
I didn’t make her roll it, and here’s why:

First off, Charisma based casters are an innovation new to Third Edition. In prior editions of D&D, Wizards needed Intelligence and Clerics needed Wisdom. In Second Edition, Thieves gained a percentile chance to activate magic items, etc. Now comes along Third Edition which introduces the idea that you need a high enough relevant score to cast a scroll which was, I believe, a new feature. It’s one that makes a certain amount of sense in regards to Wizards scrolls because you can imagine needing a great deal of intelligence in order to correctly interpret and invoke the necessary arcane formula as presented in what is now termed a “Spell Completion Item.”

But that really doesn’t make much sense for Clerics. What are divine scrolls really but prays to a specific god. It makes little real sense that they such scrolls are then divorced from the patron deity as soon as they are written. It defies logic that a Cleric of Iomedae should invoke his god to gain Iomedae’s blessing that at some future time life will be restored to a recently fallen comrade only to have that prayer fall into an enemy cleric of Asmodeus hands and used to bring back an Antipaladin. It defies logic, but I’m willing to go with it for game convention.

However, now we’d have to believe that a Bard, which does have access to a fair amount of healing magic, might fail to invoke the prayer properly because they lack the necessary Wisdom? Wisdom to do what, invoke Iomedae properly? If Iomedae is a necessary part of the spells completion, then she would surely not grant life giving privileges to an evil doer who just happened to find an old prayer lying around. And if Iomedae is not really involved in the casting of the spell, then why is a Wisdom score required at all? If there’s a certain “divine formula” which must be followed to use the divine energies, then it should go back to Intelligence and not Wisdom.

In the Pathfinder system, each class understands magic in its own way. A Cleric, a Wizard and a Sorcerer all cast Charm Person as the exact same spell but each is interacting with magic in his own way using his own prime requisite. This only makes sense if we say that each individual class is able to access magical powers on his own terms and understandings. Otherwise, why would a Sorcerer be able to cast a Fireball off of a Wizard’s scroll just because it’s “Arcane”? It just doesn’t make sense.

So, for magic casting classes, I’ve decided to allow Use Magic Device to add the spell to a individuals spell list on a successful check, and have that particular class’s prime requisite for magic be the necessary check. This not only allows substandard classes such as the Bard and Sorcerer to become slightly more powerful, but it also avoids the future book keeping headache of having to note for each scroll whether it is a Divine v. Arcane as well as Intelligence v. Wisdom v. Charisma. Wizards of the Coast introduced a Charisma based divine caster in its Miniatures Handbook and if such a class were to ever come into Pathfinder then you could conceivably have: Wisdom Divine Scrolls, Charisma Divine Scrolls, Intelligence Arcane Scrolls, and Charisma Arcane Scrolls. As it is I’ve never sense a module list a given Arcane scroll as being Charisma based despite the fact that there’s no reason to think otherwise.

The result becomes as unwieldy as it was when weapons became too specific based on size back in 3.5 when suddenly a small size character’s medium weapon was no longer equivalent to a medium size’s character’s medium weapon. The whole think becomes a book keeping mess and it only serves to detract from the believability of the game as a whole.

3 thoughts on “The problem with Use Magic Device in Pathfinder”

  1. I don’t see the problem.

    yes, bards get healing arcane spells.

    Is breath of life on the list? Nope, it’s a 5th level divine spell.

    It is a divine spell because it can resurrect. Arcane magic that’s not in the wish line of spells cannot do it. Period.

    Hence it is NOT on the bard class list. Two rolls are needed if the wisdom is not high enough. Dems the breaks. Putting arcane resurrection spells in the game means wizards can get them. Bards getting arcane healing is a special exception that no other arcane class gets.

    As for the int vs charisma for wizard vs sorcerer, the rogue/bard gets a break on these. they DO get to use charisma as the spellcasting stat if it’s higher, because sorcerer and wizard have the same spell lists. Doesn’t matter if it’s a wizard that made the scroll, it’s also on the sorcerer list. You can pick whatever caster class has the highest stat for the spell you want to cast. If your Charisma is higher then your intelligence, you get to emulate a sorcerer. The game mechanics simply don’t distinguish between sorcerer and wizard scrolls, so they get to cherry pick the arcane casting stat of their choice.

  2. I liked your article. I solved the problem by moving the skill from Charisma (never understood that, what? you’re going to charm the wand into thinking you’re a cleric?) to Luck instead (you held the wand the correct way, said the right thing and were thinking pure thoughts and it responded, good luck getting it to happen again!). Also, all magic needs a Spellcraft (changed to Thaumaturgy) roll to succeed. Never liked Spellcraft the way it was. Thus, all casters (arcane, divine or psionic) need to make the roll and thus have to take rank in this skill. Thanks!

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