Circles Of Power

The dream of summoning celestials, fiends, or elementals is one that almost every apprentice holds at one point or another. Many go on to other pursuits, while some eventually learn to craft their own circles and undergo the rituals necessary to summon an extraplanar being. Of these, many find themselves ill-prepared to deal with a powerful extraplanar being (or even a less-powerful one) and end up being torn apart, their souls taken to the Nine Hells or the Abyss to be tortured and eaten or worse.

Circles of Power

Summoning creatures using a circle of power is quite a bit safer than doing it without one (i.e., simply using a spell or magic item), but it also requires a premade circle. There are two types of circles - lesser and greater. Each is described below.

Circles of power are often used in circumstances where someone is attempting to summon a creature more powerful than he could normally handle, or if he wishes to bind the creature into service, as opposed to merely ordering it to attack his enemies (the normal use of the summon monster spells). Rituals like planar binding often use circles of power for this very reason.

A creature summoned into a circle of power is bound to remain in that circle until freed or dismissed; a lesser circle can only hold a creature for 1 day per rank of its power level, but a greater circle can hold one forever, as long as it remains unbroken. The creature also cannot use any abilities, physical or magical, on anyone outside of the circle, nor can it use its powers to escape the circle or summon others of its kind. The barrier is inviolable - nothing short of a divine being can breach it from the inside; there are stories of powerful summoners binding even archdemons and lesser deities, but most scholars scoff at these tales. Anything breaking the barrier from the outside (even a spell through it) or causing even a small break in the circle (wiping out part of the line, e.g.) immediately renders it powerless and frees the being within. The circle cannot be reestablished until it has been empty for at least one round.

The exception to this rule is if someone places himself in the circle and activates it from within; as long as the person who activated the circle is alive, the circle remains closed and impervious to all beings, no matter their origin or alignment, and any effects, magical or nonmagical (so someone couldn't throw or shoot objects across the plane). Sound still passes through the barrier - those outside can talk to those inside, but magical effects cannot cross the barrier, so any attempts to influence those inside must be strictly nonmagical. As with the normal use of the circle, breaking the barrier negates the protection, or the caster can drop it as a free action. If the caster dies or leaves the circle for any reason, it immediately collapses.

Some spellcasters can use a circle to summon outsiders without spells or magic items - sheerly through their own power - though this is rare, and such casters are always powerful and well-trained.

Using a Circle of Power

Summoning circles are not (and cannot be) keyed to specific individuals; anyone can use a lesser circle as long as his caster level is equal to or greater than half the circle's power level. (A Knowledge (arcana) check, DC 10 + power level, can determine a circle's power level.) However, a summoner who attempts to use a circle whose power level is greater than he can handle runs the risk of taking massive damage or even being killed outright.

Before a summoner can call a creature into a circle of power, he must activate it by tapping into it. This requires a standard action, though some more experienced casters can do so as a free action with only a word or two of power and a minor effort of will (DC 25 Concentration check; failure means the caster takes magical backlash - see below).

If the summoner attempts to tap into a circle whose power level is higher than he can normally handle, he must make an immediate Fort save (DC 10 + circle's power level + the difference between the power level and the summoner's caster level) or suffer intense magical backlash: he takes 4d6 points of damage, +1d6 per level of difference (as noted above); a successful save negates this damage. If the save succeeds, he can use the circle normally (though he must still make a new save each time he taps into that circle); if it fails, the link is broken, but he can attempt to try again.

For example: Karthos the 4th-level cleric attempts to use a circle created by Artinax the 7th-level sorcerer (power level 8). He must make a Fort save vs. DC 10 + 7 (the circle's power level) + 4 (the difference between the power level and his level), for a total of 21. The save succeeds, and Karthos activates the circle.

Anyone can use a circle of power as a defensive measure (see above), regardless of the circle's power level, as long as he is a spellcaster. There is no check necessary; activating a circle in this manner is a standard action.

Crafting a Circle of Power

Someone scribing a circle must make a Spellcraft check: DC 10 + power level for a lesser circle, or DC 20 + power level for a greater circle (he can take 10 on this check). The DM should roll this check secretly; the summoner doesn't know if the circle is faulty unless he inspects the circle (which takes a full minute) and makes another Spellcraft check at the same DC. If this second check fails too, the summoner assumes the circle is good. If the circle is faulty (and the summoner knows it), he must start over, though he needs to spend only half the cost in raw materials to redo it (see below).

If the circle is faulty, the creature summoned knows it immediately, though its reaction depends on its intelligence, its alignment, and the summoner's alignment. Less intelligent creatures will likely immediately break through the circle and attempt to kill the summoner before they leave, while a more intelligent one will either simply leave (if good-aligned) or bide its time, luring the summoner into a false sense of security before attacking.

When a spellcaster reaches a higher level, he can enhance any existing circles he has by spending 1 hour and 100 gp in materials per new power level to be added. For example, Artinax gains a new level and wishes to enhance his circle; he must spend 1 hour and 100 gp to do so. If, on the other hand, he let the circle go and gained several levels in the meantime, he could improve it by some or all of those levels, expending 1 hour and 100 gp per level in the process. There is no limit to the number of levels a circle can be augmented in this manner, but it cannot be raised higher than the creator's highest caster level plus his Int bonus. Note also that the gp costs are for the smallest circle (5-foot diameter); each 5-foot increase in size doubles the gp cost.

A group of casters can also create a circle with a power level far greater than any single member could manage; all the casters must be present while the circle is created, and they can use the aid another action to grant a bonus to the scriber's Spellcraft check, if he chooses to go that route. Unlike normal rituals, the casters can "switch out" on a day-to-day basis, as long as the scriber is the same person, the total number remains the same, and all casters are at least half the scriber's level. Each additional caster adds a +1 bonus to the power level of the finished circle. There is no upper limit to the power level of a circle created this way, but a circle cannot have more casters creating it than its diameter in feet (i.e., a 5-foot circle cannot have more than 5 casters, a 10-foot circle 10 casters, etc.).

Lesser Circles

In some cases, a summoner wishes to scribe a circle but doesn't have the time to spend to do it right (i.e., before a coming battle). In this case, he can create what is called a simple circle or a lesser circle. All he needs is a flat, level surface large enough to scribe the circle. This requires one round per power level of the circle, but does not cost anything – the circle is either drawn with chalk (or blood, ink, powdered metal, etc.), or simply drawn in the dirt (note: this is a vastly inferior method, and very dangerous – very few summoners attempt it more than once, unless they are desperate or have no other choice). No additional abilities can be instilled into a lesser circle, though they still have a dimensional anchor effect on the summoned creature. A lesser circle must be at least 5 feet in diameter, but can be no larger than 10 feet. A 5-foot circle can be used to summon one Medium creature (or two Small, or four Tiny, etc.); a 10-foot circle can be used to summon one Large creature.

The inherent - and obvious - problem with lesser circles is that they can be easily broken: simply erase a chalk line, scuff a line in the dirt, or spill some water over the circle, and it is rendered powerless. Another, less obvious problem is that the summoner suffers a -2 penalty when attempting to control a summoned creature. The former reason, more than the latter, is why very few summoners scribe simple circles unless they need to do it "quick and dirty" – in a hurry and without the niceties of a full ritual. For instance, adventurers have raided the goblin warrens and are hacking their way toward the chieftain's room. Grukka the goblin shaman scribes a lesser circle on the floor and uses it to summon an earth elemental to help defend the caves.

A lesser circle's power level cannot be greater than the creator's caster level, and a summoner cannot call a creature whose ECL is greater than the circle's power level. A lesser circle will hold a creature for one day per power level, unless it is released first; if the creature has spell resistance, it can make a Will save (DC 10 + power level), with its SR bonus as a bonus to the save, to break free.

The summoner can also include one type of material in the creation of a lesser circle to augment the circle's power. The summoner needs only 10 gp worth of material per 5 feet of the circle's size. Augmenting a circle in this manner grants a +2 to the DC when the summoned creature attempts to make Will saves to break free.

The material depends on the type of the creature the summoner intends to call:

Creature Material
Celestials Infernal iron
Elementals Varies1
Fiends Special2
Spirits Diamond

1 Each elemental requires a different material:
Air: Iron
Earth: Dandelion puffs, ground into a paste and mixed with powdered silver
Fire: Coral
Water: Obsidian

2 Demons and related beings require cold iron, while devils and related beings require silver. If the metal has been blessed, it adds another +2 to the DC.

The summoner can also use the magic circle spell in conjunction with a lesser circle; this circle is effective against creatures of the opposite alignment, no matter their type. In this case, the DC for the circle is increased by 5 against Will saves if the creature tries to break out. This bonus overlaps the one granted by the materials – a lantern archon (a lawful good celestial) summoned using a circle impregnated with infernal iron and a combined with a magic circle against good would suffer a -5 penalty, not -7.

Greater Circles

Greater circles are the most powerful types of circles, and the hardest to make. They are also the only ones that can be made permanent.

As noted above, creating a greater circle requires a Spellcraft check (DC 20 + power level). The summoner must also gather 100 gp of raw materials (precious gems, rare metals, and other materials) per power level. The circle must be scribed onto a clean, flat stone surface large enough to hold it; the type of stone doesn't matter, though some summoners hold that circles carved into a hard stone like marble, granite, or basalt are the best.

Once the summoner has gathered the necessary components, he can scribe the circle. The process of scribing a circle requires one hour per power level, akin to creating a magic item; he must spend 8 hours a day scribing the circle – scribing the circle itself, carving the runes, casting the necessary spells, and renewing the bonds each day. If the casting is interrupted or he spends less than 8 hours of every 24 working on the circle, it is ruined; all of the materials used up to that point (100 gp/day) are wasted, and the circle must be erased (typically by using a hammer and chisel or by casting transmute rock to mud) and started over.

The circle's power level cannot be greater than the creator's level + Int bonus, and a caster cannot use a circle to summon a creature whose ECL is greater than the circle's power level +4. A circle must be at least 5 feet in diameter, but can be no larger than 20 feet. A 5-foot circle can be used to summon one Medium creature (or two Small, or four Tiny, etc.); a 10-foot circle can be used to summon one Large creature; a 15-foot circle can be used to summon one Huge (tall) creature; and a 20-foot circle can be used to summon one Gargantuan (tall) or Huge (long) creature. 10-foot circles are the most common, but larger circles are often used by cabals or guilds with enough casters to utilize the increased power level necessary to summon more powerful beings. A circle cannot be used to summon a creature that is larger than it can hold.

For example: Artinax, the 7th level sorcerer (Int 13) can scribe a circle with a power level of 8 and can use it to summon any extraplanar creature with an ECL up to 12.

A greater circle has the following powers:

  • Summoned creatures cannot employ any abilities on creatures outside the circle (gaze attacks, breath weapons, supernatural or spell-like abilities, spells, etc.) or teleport out of the circle using astral spell, dimension door, plane shift, etc., nor can they summon other creatures.
  • Once per round, as a free action, the summoner can inflict up to 1d4 points of nonlethal damage per point of his Wisdom bonus to the summoned creature.
  • A greater circle will hold a summoned creature indefinitely, unless the circle is broken (by breaking the barrier created by the circle), the creature is released by the will of the summoner (either to go back its home plane or to accomplish a task for the summoner), or the creature manages to break free.

In addition to a circle's normal powers, the creator can also instill a number of extra powers into a circle. These powers do not increase the power level, but they do require additional expenditures of time and money. They can be added at any time during or after the creation of the circle; each additional power requires one day and 100 gp/spell level to properly instill. The creator can also include any or all of the materials listed under lesser circles for greater circles.

Power GP Cost
Charm monster* 400
Discern lies* 400
True seeing* 600
Zone of truth* 200

The summoned creature can make a save, if applicable, but spell resistance does not apply.

Charm: If the creature fails a save, it is considered charmed. This lasts until dispelled, the caster dismisses the creature or the spell, or the circle is broken. This has no effect on mindless creatures.

Discern lies: The summoner knows if the creature(s) is lying; the creature is not aware of this spell. This power cannot be used in conjunction with zone of truth.

True seeing: Anyone outside the circle gains the benefit of this spell when viewing anything inside the circle – no illusions, shapechanging, etc. are effective inside the circle.

Zone of truth: Creatures summoned are incapable of speaking a lie, though they know of this restriction and are perfectly capable of working around it, if they are intelligent enough.

Ritual Summonings

When someone wishes to summon a creature using a circle, he can do it by himself, or he can gather together a number of others to aid him in a ritual. In the latter case, each additional member adds +2 to the DC for any saves the summoned creature must make, or +1 for detemining the summoner's level when attempting to use a circle with a greater power level. The number of members cannot be greater than the circle's diameter in feet (i.e., five people for a 5-foot circle, ten for a 10-foot circle, etc.), and the additional members' caster levels must be at least one-third the leader's (round up). They can use a lesser or greater circle; the ritual focus makes the Fort save, and if it fails, all the casters take the damage.

Binding Creatures

If the summoner calls a creature using a circle of power and has it under his control, he can attempt to bind it into service. Typical tasks to guard an object or area (up to 10 square feet per class level of the summoner), or to perform a certain task (obtain an object, slay an individual, etc.). This is similar to the planar ally spell, except that the summoner can call a creature of his choice, using any summoning spell he wishes. If the creature is intelligent and the summoner wishes to do so, he can strike a deal with it to perform a task. If both parties have agreed to the terms, they are bound by those terms - the creature can be set free to accomplish its task, but the summoner must provide payment first. All agreements automatically include the stipulations that a) the summoned being will not molest the summoner (though anyone else is fair game), and b) the summoned being is instantly transported back to its home plane upon the completion of its task.

A summoner can also force a creature into service, regardless of its wishes; this is similar to the planar binding spell. In this case, summoner and creature must make opposed Charisma checks; if the summoner wins, he can name a task that is within the creature's power to accomplish, and it is bound to do it. If the creature wins, it resists the binding, but it is still trapped in the circle. A summoner can make one attempt, plus one per point of his Charisma bonus, at the rate of one attempt 24 hours. If he uses up all his attempts, the creature is free to return to its home plane.

As above, the tasks are generally simple in scope; if the creature cannot accomplish the task, the binding is broken and it is free to return to its home plane. Depending on the task and the creature's alignment, the DM can assign a circumstance bonus to the creature's check from +1 to +6 (a celestial ordered to kill a cleric of the god the celestial serves would gain a +6, while if the cleric were evil, the bonus would be somewhere around +2).

Elementals are often bound to something related to their element (a water elemental into a fountain, a fire elemental into a fire or furnace to provide permanent fire, etc.), while celestials and are usually used to guard an area or recover holy items; fiends are also used as guards or to hunt down those the summoner wishes dead. A cleric using this ability to bind an outsider of similar alignment had better have a very good reason for doing so, or he risks angering his god (and other outsiders of that type summoned with planar ally spells might require a greater payment). The summoner and the summoned being can work out terms of agreement beforehand, however, and the outsider can forgo its save to be bound if the cause is worthwhile (DM's discretion; guarding the cleric's temple or a holy item of the church, for example, is a good reason). In any case, the binding lasts until the caster dies, the creature is released from the terms of its agreement (an object being guarded is stolen, e.g.), or the creature is slain.

Ritual bindings work much the same way; the lead caster is the one who binds the creature, and each additional participant grants him a +1 bonus to his Charisma check.

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