Let’s Talk About Spells Baby (1/?)

So after my twitter conversation with Doragon Kishu on twitter, I’ve been thinking a great deal about magic. Not much more than usual, I’ll admit, but enough to set something to writing for once. The discussion focused on the language of magic–namely, why don’t mages have their own language along the lines of Common, Elven, Orcish, etc.

For this to work, there needs to be something that binds mages together–I mean, magic, obviously–but consider that there are mages of many different cultures and species. Would all of them use a common language? Where would that language come from? Who created it and why? Is the language itself inherently magic, or is it something created to discuss magic?

I’ve often seen draconic used as the defacto magical language. In 3rd edition, it was outright stated that many magical texts were written in draconic. Dragons were very powerful sorcerers in 3.5, a factor that’s been nerfed out of 5th, but Sorcerers can still derive their power from draconic heritage–reestablishing that link between dragons and magic. The dragonborn race in 5E reads “Draconic is thought to be one of the oldest languages and is often used in the study of magic.” The use in the study of magic could be both because dragons are inherently magical and because the language is so old; unless magic is a recently discovered phenomenon, one would expect an old language to have a lot of magical texts written in it.

There is also the question about magical texts themselves. Not just “Books of theory about magic” but the books of spells that wizards keep, along with scrolls and the like. Per the PHB, no two wizards use the same notation, so when you get a wizard’s spellbook you have to copy “the basic form of the spell” and decipher the notation of the wizard who used it. Presumably, spellbooks contain instructions–what words to say, what gestures to make, what components to use, how one should stand, what secret inner state of mind is necessary to cast the spell. So there are ways to record practical magic, but not an established universal method.

This is going to get very wooly very fast, because in order to discuss a language of mages, you need two major lore elements specific to your world. One, the history and organization of magical scholars. For a language to be created, there must be a culture to support it, adopt it, whatever. A single language for mages implies a great deal of unity among mages, no matter what king they serve, their species, their school of magic–a lot of variation.

Second, it requires an understanding of wtf is magic in your setting, and that is a much crazier rabbit hole than it may seem at first. One I am overly eager to jump down in the next ? blog entries. Hold on to your butts.

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