Hitchhiker's Guide to the Planes
We’d stumbled into a whole field of them. Just at dusk, of course. We should never have left the road. Shouldn’t ought to have even set out when we did, bein’ afternoon and all. The fog started risin’ and we’re standin’ there debatin’ which way to go, when the first ugly brute crawls up outta the ground not a stone’s throw from us. Tyron slashes it near in half, but the bleedin’ thing keeps comin’. It takes him five strikes to finally take the stinkin’ thing’s head off and even then it’s still a twitchin’. Lyrria near to heaves up her guts lookin’, when outta nowhere a bolt o’ red light hits her full in the chest an’ drops her. Rigzit, this pain in the arse cleric we was takin’ to Silverymoon, starts off across the field, firin’ off his own bolts and shoutin’ to Tyr fer all he’s worth. Tyron, Dalon and me get around Lyrria, while probably a dozen of these stinkin’ rotted things come at us outta the dark. They got these long fingernails, and white eyes and gods the stench of ‘em. Lucky they was slow, and we start backin’ up, Dalon draggin’ Lyrria along with us. We hacked away at two of ‘em that eventually dropped, but there musta been ten more shambling at us. We can hear Rigzit still out there in the dark fightin’ with someone. Lights be flashin’ and they’re both shoutin’ and carryin’ on. A couple o’ the bleeders come up at our backs, the three of us start a slashin’ fer all we’re worth. One o’ the buggers gets Tyron across the face an’ he doubles over retchin’ as it falls on him. I took a sharp hit to the side that staggered me. It’s lookin’ like we weren’t gonna make it back to the Academy after all, when alls of a sudden, whoosh! One second I’m slashin’ away at this sickly thing in front o’ me, the next I feel this deep sizzle and hum in me bones and a column o’ flame just as blue as the sea comes droppin’ down out o’ the sky right on top of this wretch. The stench o’ the thing was gone, and when me eyes cleared I sees this charred, smokin’ pile o’ ash, that drops in a heap afore me. Then another one in front o’ Dalon gets lit up the same way and near disintegrates. Then another one! Marthammor’s Holy Trousers it was somethin’ to see as this blast of blue flames drops down from the heavens on one after another, the whole field lit up with ‘em every few seconds. Only then do we see Rigzit, he’s walkin’ back into the light, lookin’ worse for wear than all of us but still smilin’ and pointin’ at each of the stinkin’ zombies and lightin’ em up." – Draven, a dwarf guard escort for the city of Silverymoon, overheard and recorded by the Bard Dharhavian
Sacred Flame is one of the most basic of tactical damage spells available to almost all clerics and encompassing the most ancient of religious attack archetypes: flame from the sky.
Regardless of the deity worshiped, nearly every cleric has access to Sacred Flame. The nature of the effect can change greatly between religions and even between casters. Scholars studying this magic have recorded a wide variety of flame colors, shapes and textures. While most often the flame appears as a gout or thin column coming down from the sky from an indeterminate height, some casters have been known to create spell effects that come up from the floor beneath the target, or even in rare cases which simply appear as a flash in the area where the target is.
Another advantage of this spell is that it seems to descend (or ascend) upon the target without needing to fly from the fingers of the caster. Many have rued the day they got a spell casting priest cornered with everyone taking cover only to find their compatriots screaming in pain as the fire descended upon them behind their kegs or boxes.
The Sacred Flame effect does not always hit. The dexterity of the target can allow it to dodge the effect if it is fast – and lucky – enough. But when it does hit, and regardless of the color or shape of the flame gout, the damage done is akin to that of the sun, radiant harm.
Though this is a basic spell, requiring no expenditure of finite spell energy by the caster, it is used by casters both young and experienced, and the damage they are able to do seems to increase as they gain experience with it. It is a popular and useful spell also because Clerics of the higher orders can do a significant amount of damage to the deity’s enemies, even after expending their other spell energy completely.
For clerics who are not proficient in melee with heavy weapons, or who choose not to engage directly, Sacred Flame is a decent attack, particularly for less experienced casters, that can be made at a distance of up to 60 feet. For clerics in the midst of battle, it is also a decent attack option in that there are no close in attack disadvantages if you can cast it on the monster right in front of you.
Like most basic spells, the origins of mortals calling down Sacred Flame are lost to history. Throughout history, accounts of religious wars and those involving the fervent have been filled with the colorful imagery of the Flames of the “Sacred Wrath of Insert godname here”. As a relatively common attack, and with the variety of manifestations, Sacred Flame attacks have always been one of the highlights mentioned in the history books by those who have chronicled large scale conflicts.
The elves still speak of the Weeping War that led to the taking of Myth Drannor nearly 800 years ago in which fists of orc shaman troops, not the most advanced of adversaries under normal circumstances, inspired by the orc gods and out of control on the field, advanced with concentrated Sacred Flame attacks against the gathered forces at Helmgrove and helping to corral the forces of the elves into the city prior to its siege. They say the blood red flame seemed to drop from the Eye of Gruumsh hovering over the battlefield and that even the elves were not entirely true to their attacks in the face of it.
While clerical forces are often brought to bear for more significant summoning and inspirational magics, their impact on the field of battle can be mighty in the service of their gods’ purposes.
Casting of sacred flame requires both vocalization and somatic gestures, but no material component. Like casting for most minor magics, these components tends to be somewhat personalized to the caster. However, study has shown that unlike Light, Thaumaturgy or Mending, which seem to manifest naturally early in life in most clerics with strong connections to a deity, sacred flame is in the vast majority of cases learned at the hand of an experienced teacher. Thus, the casting mechanics of the spell seem to vary more by deity or temple than by individual.
It should be noted, however, that some do come naturally to the casting of Sacred Flame early in life, often before any formal training has been received. These individuals tend to have unintentionally strong connections to a deity or sponsor, and to be exceptionally dangerous, often coming from upbringings of extreme stress or hardship and having had to develop the ability to fight back in order to survive in situations they most likely did not understand. For these wild casters, both the mechanics and the behavior of the Sacred Flame spell can be wildly different and more unpredictable.
The vocalizations to call a Sacred Flame tend to be specific to the deity being channeled. Adherents to the Church of Oghma tend to recite a sacred admonition against the destruction of knowledge. I have faced clerics of Cyric who used his very name as the vocalization that called forth black writhing pillars that twisted down upon us in his corrupted manifestation of the Sacred Flames.
Interestingly, though the vocalization to call the Sacred Flame varies quite widely, the motions used to call it tend to be quite similar. Whether this is an artifact of the motion required to shape the weave or simply a similarity in how we mortals experience the effect, I know not.
The motion taught to me was that of two fingers forward, while the other fingers and thumb form a tunnel. The palm is up, and the hand is brought down, fingers pointing to the desired target of the channeling. In this configuration I am also able to make this gesture while holding my weapon, something important to my order. This also gives the impression, albeit incorrect, to my enemy that I am calling down the fire with my weapon, which I normally set alight during a fight. This has actually saved me as I’ve had attacks focused to disarm me in a fight which succeeded, only to have the attacker then surprised to find holy fire raining down upon him from an unarmed foe!
I have seen this spell channeled with a single finger forward, with the palm down, and with the other fingers and thumb in various other states, but nearly always there is the downward motion from the sky to the target. Interestingly, I once read of an encounter with a Deep Gnome worshiper of Urdlen, whose Sacred Flame spells appeared from the ground beneath the feet of its target. Yet by this account the caster used a double-handed downward motion to channel it nonetheless.
Spell Effects and Appearance
Aside from the motion and vocalization required to cast, there does not seem to be any connection between the caster and the effect. If a group were casting the same spell on a range of adversaries I don’t know that it would be possible to tell which strike was whose.
The effect can be channeled up to 60 feet away. As stated earlier, the appearance of the effect can vary in color, in shape and in complexity. Typically, it appears to be a column of flame, however the damage does not burn in a traditional sense. Rather damage to the target seems to be as if the concentrated effects of the sun were inflicted upon it over weeks or months. Smoldering or ash upon the flesh of the target is also often seen, and weathering or drying of clothing or other materials. To those close to the strike of a Sacred Flame, a sharp odor is present, not un-similar to that after a strong thunderstorm. It is not unpleasant, just a sharp tang.
When cast, Sacred Flame tends to create a deep, resonant, sizzling thrum sound that is quite palpable within a few feet of the effect, but which diminishes fairly quickly over distance. Those within immediate proximity of a target often report “feeling” rather than hearing the deep thrum of the strike, while those 10 feet away might only report that they heard a low, dark sizzling sound.
Casting a Sacred Flame attack on an opponent standing behind cover is possible. While the caster must be able to see the target, even seeing a glimpse of the person between a pair of hogsheads is enough, I’ve found, to establish them as a target. For creatures under cover, I have found that the effect nonetheless does the same damage. It is a curious effect when cast indoors or underground, as the sky is not visible.
I have cast the sacred flame, for example on someone I could see within a building, who was affected by the spell fully, and to my eyes the flame gout indeed appeared to come from the sky, yet did not seem to have an impact on the roof of the structure under which my target hid. Had I been within the structure, I know from experience that it would appear as though the flames came down from the ceiling, yet someone standing objectively outdoors would not necessarily see my sacred flame drop from the sky. It is my belief that while the generic concept of this energy channeling refers to flames from the sky, its actual manifestation upon its target is at the point of damage, and the source is more objective to the caster, meeting the caster’s perspective of flames from above the target.
Having experience with Guiding Bolt, it is easy to mistake this as a version of Guiding Bolt streaking down from the heavens, but this is clearly a target focused damage spell, versus a ray of energy. I have repaired many a wall or thatched roof, for example, after errant damage by my Guiding Bolt, but have not seen significant collateral damage from the Sacred Flame.
Interactions and Multiple Castings
Because Sacred Flame does not diminish a caster’s finite magic resources, it can be cast over and over to great effect. Every casting takes a few seconds to accomplish, but it can be an extremely successful approach to dealing with a large number of relatively weak opponents, particularly those that are slow, and particularly when the caster is casting from a well-protected vantage point.
The spell, like most spells, cannot be cast into an area of suppressed, broken or wild magic with predictable results. The interaction of divine magic with the arcane are inherently difficult to understand. Great caution should be used if you suspect you will be casting upon a creature who is within an area of magical disturbance.
It goes somewhat without saying, but all casters trained in the use of this effect who successfully wield it for any period of time must use it in the service and furtherance of the will of their deity. Sacred Flame, quite literally, calls down the fiery wrath of one’s god on his/her enemies. It is indeed the most foolish of beings who does so in a profligate manner or in ways that conflict with the desires of his god. I have seen casters permanently stripped of their powers, struck mad and removed from the field of battle from misuse of Sacred Flame and other divine spellcasting.
Though I have not encountered it personally, I believe that many of those who learn to call this effect in the wild must be destroyed by its misuse, for without the guiding understanding of the will of one’s patron or deity, it is a tool much too tempting to be used for selfish purposes or in the furtherance of evil. For this reason, wild casters who can manifest the Sacred Flame without religious order should be feared above all, for they channel chaos and pain with the blessing of their god.