Power word spells are one of the most interesting elements of the “assumed setting” described by the rules of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook. Though the power word spells do not have any description of how and why they are different from other spells, both their naming convention (each being “power word” and then a single action or condition) and their unique game mechanics make it clear they are a different kind of magic.
It’s also clear that while power words are enchantment (compulsion) [mind-affecting], they aren’t limited to forcing a target to do something normally within the power of its conscious mind. There’s no rule to suggest that characters can willingly go blind, become stunned, or kill themselves by will alone, yet the power word spells produce those effects. These are, on the other hand, the kinds of things that adventure fiction suggests that a creature’s mind can do to itself subconsciously, either as a hypnotic suggestion or as result of trauma. Much as a creature can faint if sufficiently surprised or suffer hysterical blindness if subject to sufficient trauma, power words seem to be able to call upon the powers of the mind to do things beyond conscious control.
When considered from the perspective of adventure and fantasy fiction, it becomes reasonable to wonder what else power words can do. In the expanded spells below, the power of the mind to control the body is expanded to include spontaneous combustion, loss of senses, and potentially permanent changes of alignment and memory. While these are beyond the scope of most enchantment spells, they are certainly no less reasonable than suggesting a creature can will itself to drop dead, as power word kill does.
So, what makes power words different from other spells? Why do they focus their power into a single word that affects the minds of their targets, but don’t even need to be heard to be effective? To answer those questions we first take an in-depth look at what we can learn from power word spells’ unique rules, then present a new game element – the First Language.