Coming back from a gaming convention this weekend we got into a conversation about Pathfinder, surprising no one. What did come up was a question I wasn’t prepared to answer, “If you could cast any first level spell from any spell list once per day at Caster Level 1, what would it be?” Answers ranged from Magic Missile so they could “guarantee 1-hit k.o. annoying people” to Feather Fall to “become a stunt sensation and hopefully avoid accidental falling deaths”. I didn’t get to answer this question before we got home, but I want to answer it today, and also highlight some of the more useful and less useful first level spells in regards to modern life.
Let’s start with the losers:
Vanish: At CL 1, the time offered by vanish isn’t enough to accomplish any real stealth hijinks. At best it lets you mess with other drivers as they briefly think your car is driving by itself.
Detect Undead: Useful if in a Buffy, Walking Dead, or Supernatural bizarr-o world, useless in modern earth. Repair Undead, Hide from Undead and Sanctify Corpse are in the same boat.
Face of the Devourer: Using this is asking to be chased down and fear-murdered by townsfolk wielding pitchforks and torches.
Flare Burst: Why cast a spell like this when camera flashes exist?
Urban Grace: For one minute you’d get to move faster through crowds. Good for catching your bus, a lame use of this sudden, inexplicable magical power.
Mirror Polish: Useful before the 20th century, but seeing as mirrors can be bought at the dollar store, you’d be exchanging cool magic for $1 each time you used this disappointment today.
Detect Metal: Useful only in the rare case that you’re a surgeon that needs to remove shrapnel and bullets from people.
Sure Casting: SR doesn’t exist in real life, so a spell to help overcome it isn’t very useful.
Litany of Weakness: You shout some mumbo-jumbo at someone and they become fatigued for 6 seconds. Consequently that’s enough time for them to realize what you’ve done and decide to come after you with a Litany of Fists.
Now, let’s look at some winners:
True Strike: This spell could literally make you rich. You’d just have to work the sport-event “Half-Court Shot” promotion circuit, pop your spell, and reap the rewards.
Mount: A free horse for 2 hours that you don’t have to feed or shelter? Really those are the worst parts of owning a horse.
Theft Ward: 24 hours of protection for your wallet from pick-pockets? Sign me up. Very useful if you frequent places where pick-pockets lurk.
Comprehend Languages: Good for 10 minutes of “I’m lost in the foreign city, please let me read this map right”, also useful for your Spanish tests.
Feather Fall: My personal opinion is that if you want to avoid falling to your death, don’t go to high places. If you had this spell you could to high places and base-jump without a parachute, earning you tons of money I’m sure.
Remove Fear: Every kid who peed their pants in their grade school play due to stage fright wishes they had this spell. Currently usable for more important things like social interaction and mixing our colors with our whites in the laundry.
Share Language: Touch someone and become fluent in a language with a whole day? The spell doesn’t specify if you gain literacy in the language, hence comprehend languages inclusion in the winners, but even without literacy Share Language would be an asset in everyday life. Heck, you could become a real-life Babblefish!
Calm Animals: Making animals chill out is a win for me. Imagine if the Cincinnati zoo had this spell, Harambe would still be with us.
Cure Light Wounds: The ability to heal someone’s mangled body (or your own for that matter) would be indispensible, for profit or charity.
Diagnose Disease: Live out your Doogie Howser and House M.D. based fantasies.
Endure Elements: Endure Elements lasts for 24 hours, that’s a whole day of existing comfortably on Earth as Earth doesn’t often throw temperatures at you outside of the spells purview. No sweaty pits, no high electric and heat bills, all win.
Read Weather: Always wear the right outfit and never have your plans ruined by unexpected weather. Also I’m sure the government would vomit money on you for your magical ability.
Crafter’s Fortune: A spell that allows you to make one thing really good every day. It’s this spell doesn’t have the zany potential of other spells on the list, but its consistency is its asset.
Alarm: A good spell for home protection (or your lunch in the office fridge). The only reason this doesn’t make the winners list is that at CL 1, the alarm only lasts for 2 hours.
Speak With Animals: At first glance this sounds really cool, and it has some great uses if an animal is hurt or clearly trying to express something. I just don’t believe animals would have interesting, fun, or insightful things to say on any regular basis. At CL 1 you’d only have it for one minute as well, further lowering its appeal.
Jump: Jump is cool, the issue is this spell doesn’t increase your skill or ability in landing.
Wizened Appearance: This spell has 2 very limited uses; looking older to buy alcohol, and looking older to get the senior discount. Both are applicable at very different times in your life.
Ant Haul: Grocery shopping will never be the same.
Abadar’s Truthtelling: It’s cool to get the truth, but as Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men “You can’t handle the truth!”
Enlarge/Reduce Person: The one minute duration gives this spell 3 specific uses; 1. becoming bigger to avoid and/or win a fight, 2. Becoming bigger to get something up high, 3. Getting smaller to get something that’s fallen in a tight space. All very useful, but lacking in pizzazz.
Linebreaker: This spell would allow you to go pro in Red Rover.
Detect Thoughts: This spell is cool but runs into the same problem as Abadar’s Truthtelling in that hearing others thoughts will probably ruin your relationship with them after a while.
Burst Bonds: I’m not saying you should break out of restraints that may or may not have been applied by law enforcement professionals; I’m just saying you could.
If I had to choose, I’d choose Diagnose Disease as my once daily magical spell. I could use it to help people AND make myself mad bank, which is a win-win. I think my idea of a useful spell is something that is marketable. I’m lucky enough to live a life where I don’t get physically threatened to often, so damage dealing spells have less appeal to me. If you had the ability to choose a first level spell to cast as a level one spellcaster once a day, what spell would you choose? Leave it for me in the comments; I’d love to hear some other opinions.