Incantations: Powerful Magic, At A Cost...
Incantations are like spells, but they can be cast by characters who are not spellcasters.
This variant enables characters who know the correct ritual gestures and phrases for an incantation to achieve powerful magic effects.
Incantations don’t use spell slots, you don’t have to prepare them ahead of time, and you can use an incantation an unlimited number of times per day.
Incantations have drawbacks: They’re time-consuming to cast, and success isn’t assured.
They are often expensive, and some require additional participants to complete the ritual.
Some incantations work only under certain specifi c conditions, such as during a full moon.
Most important among the drawbacks, an incantation rarely fades away quietly if the caster fails to perform the ritual correctly.
Instead it reverses itself on the caster, explodes with a cascade of magical energy, or weakens the barrier between worlds, enabling hostile outsiders to emerge onto the Material Plane.
This variant gives a measure of magical power to non-spellcasters, but the incantations themselves are usually too specific in effect to increase a character’s power in the general sense.
Because many incantations require academic skills such as Knowledge, the characters best equipped to cast them are often spellcasters anyway.
Incantations provide a useful way to introduce powerful magical effects in a lower-level game under controlled conditions.
PCs will still use spells rather than expensive, risky incantations whenever they can.
Incantations are also more specific than spells, so the DM can introduce them into the game without worrying that they’ll spread beyond the immediate situation.
If you want characters in your low-level game to take a brief sojourn to Ysgard, you can introduce the incantation Hrothgar’s journey.
Because it requires the construction of a thatched hut in the middle of a forest and works only during the winter solstice, you don’t have to worry about the characters exploring the Outer Planes whenever they get the urge.
If you gave low-level PCs easy access to the plane shift spell, on the other hand, they could wander the planes until they ran afoul of the first outsider more powerful than they are (which is almost any outsider).