Pact Magic Overview

Beings that cannot exist inhabit a place that cannot be. Cursed by gods and feared by mortals, these entities fall outside the boundaries of life, death, and undeath. They are untouchable by even the most powerful deities, though they can be summoned and used by the weakest mortal.

The practitioner of pact magic contacts these alien forces by means of special symbols and rituals. Once a summoning is complete, he strikes a bargain with the summoned being to gain great supernatural power.


Pact magic exists in many forms. Oaths, a lesser form of pact magic, are often used to add power to words. Indeed, oaths are so commonplace that few recognize their similarity to the pacts made by pact magic practitioners.


Many characters make pacts with themselves. Such an unspoken promise can be as binding as any contract signed by a merchant—and far more effective at forcing a person to keep his word. For example, a druid who abandons her allegiance to nature or adopts an extreme outlook must seek forgiveness or remain forever divorced from her former source of comfort and power. A monk who sets one foot off the path to spiritual purity can never walk that path again. Even barbarians, wild and inconstant as they are, must gird their thoughts against lawful leanings or risk losing the wild emotion that gives them power.


By pledging to serve a deity, a cleric puts his soul into the hands of a greater power. If he thereafter falters in his duty, he can lose his wondrous powers. Similarly, the cause of a paladin requires a constant heart. The slightest doubt or hesitation can lead to disaster, rendering the paladin unable to continue her mission without a deity’s consent.


Mortals can make binding agreements with outsiders. Spells such as lesser planar ally, planar ally, and greater planar ally allow a spellcaster to bargain for the services of an outsider or elemental. The planar binding spells work in a similar manner, allowing a character to task a particular creature in return for its freedom.


Some spells create a hidden pact between caster and subject, although the target need not be willing. Geas/quest and its lesser version force a creature to do the caster’s bidding or suffer the consequences. Mark of justice sets up clear expectations for the subject’s behavior and defines the punishment that will follow should the subject choose to behave otherwise.


A promise possesses power. An oath owns its maker. These two simple statements express the fundamental principle of pact magic. From this kernel, pact magic grows and branches, letting mortals draw from a wellspring of power that no divine power can touch.


A pact magic practitioner gains his power by bargaining with entities called vestiges—the remnants of once-living beings now trapped beyond life and death. Whether they were mortal souls strong enough to shatter the cage built by death, wayward outsiders too willful to cease existence, or dead deities unable to lie quietly in their astral graves, vestiges are the outcasts of the cosmos. They dwell in a place no one can reach and exist in a manner no one truly comprehends. This eternal distancing from reality drives most vestiges mad and twists their views of all beings—even themselves.

Because vestiges have been divorced from normal reality by some extraordinary means, they can return to it only by binding themselves to other souls. Binders, so named for their willingness to share their souls with these exiled spirits, can summon them forth by means of special rituals. Since vestiges constantly hunger for any small taste of reality, they always answer the call of any binders powerful enough to draw them forth from the void.


Each vestige is associated with a seal—a series of lines within a circle—that acts as its symbol and as a portal through which it can enter normal existence.

To call a vestige, a binder must know and be able to draw its seal. In fact, anyone can draw a seal, but only someone with the power to host a vestige can hope to create a pact that opens a door for it.


Immediately after drawing a seal, a binder must ritually invoke the desired vestige’s name and title to summon it. Again, though anyone can intone the proper words, the binder’s power is the key to success. Even so, a binder can summon only those vestiges that are within the range of his personal power.

The origins of a vestige’s name and title seem associated with both its previous existence in reality and its current state. These appellations can change over time, although such alterations occur only rarely. For this reason, most binders spend a great deal of time studying the origins and theories of pact magic in order to gain the insight that will allow them to foresee future developments.


Once a summoned vestige manifests, a binder must formally address it and request a pact. The general terms of the pact are always the same, no matter which vestige is summoned. To gain the powers that a vestige offers, a binder must agree to host it for a period of 24 hours.

When a binder offers a pact, a contest of wills ensues between him and the vestige. This contest might be played out by means of an argument, a staring match, a riddle posed to the binder, or in any number of other ways. If the vestige ultimately wins, it maintains an amount of influence over the binder for the duration of the pact. If the binder does not act as the vestige wills, it can punish him. However, if the binder reigns supreme after the contest, the vestige quietly accompanies him.


Once a binder makes a pact with a vestige, the two are inextricably bound. A shard of the vestige’s soul fuses with the binder’s spirit, creating a link so tight that the binder’s body manifests some physical sign of the vestige’s presence. The inconvenience of such a sign is a small price to pay for the supernatural powers that the vestige grants—powers that require no components, no complicated gestures, and no tongue-twisting words to use. When a binder wishes to use the abilities granted by a vestige, he simply wills the desired result to happen.


Those who practice pact magic expound upon its ease. A binder need never beg on his knees for power or study moldy tomes for hours on end to grasp the secrets of a few simple spells. Once he learns the basics of pact magic, he can call up a vestige at any time and take its power for his own. Vestiges never refuse pacts, and they ask little in return for the power they grant.

However, the tempting ease of pact magic and the necessity of soul binding with a being whose nature is completely alien generates suspicion about its practitioners. Many churches actively hunt binders and attempt to eradicate evidence of pact magic to prevent the faithful from learning that beings can exist that are beyond the reach of the gods. This general condemnation of pact magic makes discovering it difficult, even though the art itself remains quite simple.

Many binders are defrocked priests or acolytes who took up pact magic after discovering the rituals to contact vestiges in heretical texts kept hidden in secret temple libraries. Others take up the path after discovering the secrets of pacts and seals during investigations of ancient ruins. A few gain their knowledge of the binder’s arts from elder binders, but tutelage is rare because of the secrecy that most binders try to maintain and the cloud of suspicion under which they must work.


Existence defines reality. Beyond it, therefore, naught exists— not even a void. This simple reasoning would be irrefutable were it not for the existence of vestiges. Called forth from nowhere, composed of nothing, they exist entirely outside the rules of reality. They are untouchable, untraceable, and beyond all powers that might attempt to confine or define them. This philosophical conundrum has intrigued sages interested in pact magic for centuries and defied all their theories. Vestiges simply cannot exist, and yet, it seems that they do.

Some scholars say that vestiges are a common myth—they do not actually exist but are inherent in the minds of all beings. Others say they are true spirits—souls cast off into some plane that is unreachable by all magic due to an agreement between the gods. Whatever the truth of the matter, vestiges seem desperate to participate in reality, if only by peering at it through another creature’s eyes.


Although some binders devote themselves to single vestiges or choose vestiges based on philosophy or personality, most freely choose among all the vestiges they can call forth. When deciding which vestige to summon, a binder must consider several factors. In most cases, this decision is based largely on his likely needs for the day. Binders must anticipate their activities in much the same way as a wizard must when preparing spells. Some binders wait to summon a vestige (or summon one and wait to summon others) until they know more of what the day holds, though by doing so they risk not having the extra powers provided by a vestige at a critical moment.

In addition to the needs of the day, a binder should consider the vestige’s sign and influence. A binder can mitigate any potential trouble that a vestige’s influence might cause by choosing either a vestige whose influence is generally inoffensive, or one that he can easily control. In addition, the binder should consider his own abilities when making his choice. He might possess feats, magic items, or other abilities that would enhance his performance while he is bound to a particular vestige.


A summoned vestige is interested only in striking a bargain with its summoner. As soon as the pact is made, the vestige vanishes and the binder shows its sign, unless he has the means to suppress it. Once made, a pact cannot be broken. Neither the binder nor the vestige can end the association before its duration elapses, unless the binder has the Expel Vestige feat.

Occasionally, a vestige might speak with a binder about other matters before the process of binding begins, though its willingness to do so is based entirely on whim. The information gained in such a conversation, however, is suspect because vestiges are notoriously unreliable sources. They don’t seem to recall anything except their own lives, and even those memories are often confused or incorrect.

To make themselves more attractive to binders, vestiges often pretend to possess much greater knowledge than they are capable of having; indeed, some even assert that they can see the future or monitor present events occurring in distant locations. It’s impossible to force a vestige to tell the truth or even determine whether it is lying, since vestiges have immunity to all spells except antimagic field, and Sense Motive attempts against them always fail.

Even so, however, some binders regularly consult with vestiges. Although the information provided is unreliable, it sometimes bears a startling similarity to the truth, and strange coincidences abound. Years of questioning various vestiges about their origins have yielded many different versions of each one’s story, but the binder scholars who collect vestige legends have become adept at compiling the common elements and researching their veracity. In this way, the individual vestige histories have gained at least a degree of credence.


As a binder grows in power, he learns how to bind more than one vestige at a time. To do so, he must go through the ritual of drawing the seal and making a pact with each of them separately. While bound to multiple vestiges, he gains the full range of powers granted by all of them. The binder shows the sign of each vestige (unless he can suppress it), and risks being influenced by multiple vestiges on failed binding checks. If he ignores the influence of more than one vestige, the penalties stack.


The various elements of a vestige description are described below.


Each description begins with a header giving the vestige’s name and an epithet by which the vestige is known.


Below the illustration of the vestige’s seal is a summary description of its essential characteristics.

The Seal: In the process of summoning a vestige, the binder must draw its seal. The unique seal associated with each vestige is displayed above the summary information. Drawing the seal requires no skill check of any kind, but the binder must have the means to scribe the seal visibly upon a relatively flat surface. Many binders carry chalk or charcoal with them for this purpose. One piece is sufficient to draw one seal.

Vestige Level: Each vestige has a vestige level, as given in its summary. A creature wishing to summon a vestige must meet or exceed the effective binder level required to summon a vestige of that level (see Table 1–1, page 11). Although all vestiges want to experience reality, some lie farther out in the void than others and are more difficult to contact. Only through extended congress with lesser vestiges can a binder hope to summon the great entities that lie closest to nothingness.

Binding DC: The summary for each vestige gives a binding DC for the binding check needed to make a pact with it. In general, this DC scales with the binder level required to summon the vestige, but certain vestiges present a greaterthan-average challenge to binders.

Special Requirement: If the vestige imposes any special requirements on its summoning, this entry in the summary is “Yes.” Otherwise, it reads “No.”


This element of the description relates the origin legend associated with each vestige. Although binder scholars point to similar legends among the general populace (and sometimes even to historical figures) to back up their claims, these backgrounds are in large part apocryphal and known only to binders. The historical information on which each legend is based has been gathered through the years by questing for information about them. The legend detailed in this section represents the most widely accepted version, but pact magic grimoires differ and many theories exist. The religious organizations and secular authorities that might be able to offer proof one way or the other generally muddy the issue still further, either by claiming that vestiges are unholy and accursed beings that damn those who deal with them, or by disavowing the creatures’ existence entirely.


If the vestige imposes any special requirements on its summoning, they are given in the next element of the description. Special requirements vary widely depending on the nature of the individual vestige. For example, a vestige might require that its seal be drawn in a particular place, or that the binder possess a certain item or attribute. If a binder does not fulfill the vestige’s special requirement, it does not manifest when summoned, and the attempt to bind with it fails.


Different vestiges take different forms, but all manifest (become visible) as images floating over their seals. The image that appears is a supernatural figment—an illusion that cannot be dispelled, though it vanishes in an antimagic field. Certain aspects of the illusion (such as wisps of fog) can extend up to 10 feet beyond the borders of the seal, but the vestige never leaves the area over the seal. Noises produced by the vestige or the process of pact making can be heard normally, according to their volume.


A binder who makes a pact with a vestige binds his soul to it, thereby becoming a conduit through which the vestige can experience reality. This powerful bond cannot be broken by any magic—even an antimagic field only suppresses it.

This integral link manifests on the binder’s person as a physical sign peculiar to the individual vestige, as described here. This sign is a real change rather than an illusory or shapechanging effect, so anyone viewing the binder with true seeing sees it just as it is. The sign is a supernatural effect and therefore is suppressed when the binding is suppressed.

A binder can hide a sign by either mundane or magical means. Furthermore, a binder with the suppress sign class feature can choose when to show a vestige’s sign.


This element details the influence that the vestige imposes on a binder who makes a poor pact. The vestige’s influence constantly affects the binder’s personality and emotions. In addition, the vestige might require that the binder take (or refrain from taking) some action. A binder who ignores the wishes of a vestige that influences him takes a –1 penalty on attack rolls, saves, and checks until the vestige leaves.


The supernatural abilities that the vestige grants are given in this element of its description. The following rules govern these supernatural abilities.

  • All powers granted by vestiges are supernatural in origin, even if they replicate spells or abilities that are not normally considered magical.

  • Supernatural abilities are magical and thus are suppressed in an antimagic field.

  • Supernatural abilities are not subject to spell resistance.

  • Supernatural abilities cannot be dispelled.

  • Unless they deal damage, supernatural abilities affect incorporeal creatures normally. A supernatural ability that deals damage has a 50% chance not to affect an incorporeal target, if the source of the ability is corporeal.

  • Using a supernatural ability does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

  • Using a supernatural ability is a standard action unless otherwise noted.

  • Some of the supernatural abilities granted by vestiges provide constant benefits once activated. If the duration of a particular effect is not stated or implied by the ability description, assume it is constant. Typically, binders take a few moments to activate such abilities immediately after making a pact with a vestige. Most effects that are not constant can be used only once every 5 rounds (see the ability description for details).

  • If a supernatural ability granted by a vestige mimics the effect of a spell or shadow magic mystery, the caster level of that ability is always equal to a binder’s effective binder level.

  • The use of a vestige-granted power does not require a Concentration check unless its description specifies otherwise. Failure on a required Concentration check ends that use of the ability. (The DC for Concentration checks depends on the distraction; see the Concentration skill description, PH 70).

  • Supernatural abilities do not have somatic or verbal components, but certain requirements might apply to the use of individual granted abilities. For instance, a binder using a breath weapon must be able to open his mouth and breathe. Similarly, a character must have a free hand to make a melee touch attack. (In a grapple, the character makes a touch attack as though armed with a light weapon.)

  • Supernatural abilities are neither arcane nor divine. Thus, no spell failure chance applies to the use of vestige-granted abilities by an armored binder, even when those abilities mimic spells.

  • A binder shows no outward sign when using a granted ability, unless the ability description specifies that he must concentrate, or the use of the ability would be obvious based on its description (such as a ray projecting from the binder’s eyes).

  • When subjected to a supernatural ability that requires a saving throw but has no obvious effect, the target feels a hostile force or tingle but does not necessarily know the source or nature of the attack.

  • Effects created by the binder’s supernatural abilities end when the vestige leaves the binder, or if the binder dies while bound.

  • The Difficulty Class for a saving throw against a vestigegranted power is 10 + 1/2 effective binder level + binder’s Cha modifier.

  • Abilities that duplicate the benefit of a feat do so even if the recipient does not qualify for the feat.