Let’s Talk About Spells Baby (2/?)

So who studies magic, how do they talk about it, and what do they talk about?

For starters, we have to get an idea of wtf is magic itself. This can (and, I think, should) vary from campaign world to campaign world, but for this exercise I’m going to stick with the precedent set down in the 5th edition PHB (page 205)

  1. The world itself is inherently magical. There is magic everywhere, in all matter, all beings, and all forms of energy. It is “The mute and mindless will of existence” itself.
  2. Mortals lack the ability to directly manipulate or interface with this magic.
  3. There is an intermediary between mortals and this raw, primal magic, a fabric that can manipulate the primal magic and can in turn be manipulated by mortals. In the Forgotten Realms this is called “The Weave”
  4. All mortal magic is predicated on affecting this weave–divine, arcane (and in some cases psionic!).

So in this case, we have a basic understanding of what spellcasters are actually doing when they cast spells–they are interacting with the weave, shaping and moving it in particular ways to cause specific effects. Each class does this in their own way.

The PHB describes casting an arcane spell as “plucking” at the strands of the weave directly to set off the spell. Divine spellcasters ask an intermediary–a spirit, deity, or other force–to intercede on their behalf by manipulating the weave for them. So clerics and druids don’t need to know how to affect the weave, they need to know the right way to ask. This may be a specific prayer to a deity for a cleric, or for druids/shamans/etc they may need to know which spirits can enact which effects, and the rites required to attract the attention & good will of each spirit.

If the weave is broken or twisted, it can create a Wild Magic Zone, which makes sense–if you try to apply electricity to a short-circuit, things are going to happen that you didn’t expect. An anti-magic zone or dead zone is not defined as a place where there is no magic–remember, in D&D, magic and reality are inextricable from each other. Instead, it is a place where the Weave does not exist, or where the weave bends around it. The Primal Magic of reality is inaccessible.

We will be examining divine casters in this series, but most of my questions and thoughts have to do with arcane spellcasters. How do arcanists actually “reach out and pluck” the Weave? Who can do it? How do they learn it? How can they describe it to each other, share techniques? Why are verbal, somatic and material components necessary for each kind of spellcaster? Do warlocks count as arcane or divine spellcasters in this regard? How do wizards, bards and sorcerers each interact with the Weave? And what are some alternatives to this magical model?

Not only will we examine other fantasy worlds, but we’ll also explore traditions of magic in our history. From occult Elizabethan england, the enochian language, Prospero & Faustus, shamans & medicine women, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and more, the mechanics of magic will be thoroughly pontificated upon. Prepare!

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Spells Baby (2/?)

  1. I always liked the idea of Arcane spell casters actually ‘studying’ the weave. Figuring out precise calculations and repeatable experiments to teach others how to interact with the weave. For example, maybe a mage who specializes in fire knows that by keeping particular magical chemicals soaked into his clothing/gloves, he can influence the weave with complex hand signs to produce the desired effects/spells. This explains why magic can be passed down or taught to the younger generations, and also explains why you can create a magical scroll. The scroll already has the calculations and everything written on it. Maybe even the material it is made of is important. All the mage would need to do is push some energy through the scroll to activate it.


    1. One of the first things I’m going to talk about is the “Wizards as magical engineers” model, which ends up in most of my campaigns, and it’s pretty much what you’ve described above. The weird thing is that if you at historical roots of “Wizards” and spellcasters, it’s WAY more esoteric and mystical, and has a lot to do with invoking various spirits/angels/demons to get the job done. That contrast interests me and it’s gonna come up.


      1. See but those historical roots don’t scream “Mage” to me. Wizards are basically the male counterpart of Witches. And witches are known for invoking demons/spirits/etc. So it isn’t strange to think of that as a historical background for wizards, druids, warlocks, etc.


  2. The question is, then, where is the historical basis for “Mage?” Or is there one? Is the concept of the “mage” as we understand it purely modern, a result of our understanding of science/engineering? If that’s the case, then we take it as it is. I want to know where the idea came from and if it’s got roots earlier than, say, the works of Jack Vance.

    I did my college thesis on Elizabethan magic/the occult, and while the Mage concept is predominant in D&D, I love bringing variety and competing traditions to the table.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s