Spells 3/?: Yer a Wizard, Harry

Now that we’ve laid out some of the basic tents of magic in D&D 5th, let’s move on to my favorite arcane practitioner, the Wizard. Back in the original forms of D&D the Wizard was known first as the Magic User, then as the Mage, and was the only game in town when it came to arcane magic. Eventually Specializations were introduced (and honestly, I should research the Eight Schools of Magic–who made those up?), most notably the Illusionist, then the Bard got involved, and eventually we arrived at 3rd Edition, with the induction of the Sorcerer into the core classes. So let’s pause to discuss arcane magic and what sets it apart.

As far as I can tell, per D&D, the only difference between Arcane and Divine magic is who is manipulating the weave. Divine Magic is the result of divine beings interceding on behalf of mortals to manipulate the weave, and Arcane Magic…isn’t. “But wait, what about warlocks,” you say, “don’t they call on their patron to cast spells?” Maybe. Depends on whether they can invoke their patron (Invocations are one of their class features after all), or they are granted the power to manipulate the weave as part of their pact. We’ll deal with those ramifications later.

So, the Wizard. Wizards stand out as the scholarly spellcaster, surrounded by dusty scrolls, pouring over books and grimoires, mumbling to themselves as they scribe and experiment. Wizards are inexorably connected with Knowledge–the only limit on the spells they can acquire is their own understanding, which improves over time, and space in their Spellbook, without which they are deeply in trouble.

I start with Wizards because if this whole column series came from discussions of magical language, I think wizards are most directly connected to that concept. Wizards read and write their spells. When they acquire a captured spellbook, they have to study it to figure out the owner’s shorthand and system of notation. All of this implies a mathematical, scientific, engineering approach to magic, and this bleeds into many of my campaigns. Wizards study the weave. They are interested not only in how to manipulate it, but why those manipulations work. They experiment with the weave, testing theories about how to create new spells or modify existing ones. This means they must have a way to discuss it, record their notes, jot down theories. A wizard’s spell book could be thought of as a notebook of equations–this hand gesture causes the weft of the weave to lift planeward, and the incantation of Siranox sets the warp of the weave vibrating at this frequency, and if you can slightly loosen the weft and shudder the warp, adding physical components with a link to fire–bat guano and sulphur–causes that vibration to bounce away from you towards a physical space and explode. Boom, you’ve got yourself a fireball.

I always imagine wizards to be thinking this way–considering how the verbal, somatic and material components they use affect the weave, studying the different infinite combinations, and deciphering from those interactions how to create new spell effects or recreate spell effects they’ve heard of. Wizards are natural philosophers, scientists of the weave, who share or horde their knowledge according to their own designs.

There are, of course, a few more questions: Namely…


  1. How do wizards “Memorize Spells?” Is a spell more than just a certain combination of components?
  2. Can anyone become a wizard through hard work and study, or is a certain special magical talent required?
  3. Why do verbal, somatic and material components affect the weave in the first place?
  4. Do wizards actually understand why what they’re doing affects the weave, or are they only able to observe effects, and can’t comprehend the underlying laws at work?


I’m going to talk about these questions, as well as the ins and outs of Vancian Magic, next time.

2 thoughts on “Spells 3/?: Yer a Wizard, Harry

  1. Wizards: magical physicists? In which case I would argue that there IS in fact a special talent necessary, like not every person has the right kind of mind to be an actual physicist lol [points to self]. But maybe that’s because I’ve always thought math was just magic anyway…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When explaining the relationship of a Wizard’s analysis of magic vs. a Sorcerer’s, Bard’s, or Warlock’s feel for magic; I tend to use music rather than straight mathematics for newer players. With music you have theorists who can talk about chord progressions and how a certain key tends to create a certain feeling in a piece and tell you why thanks to their years of study, many musicians will reach the same end point but if asked how they got there will just tell you “I dunno, it just sounded right.”. Wizards are the music nerds that pore over thousands of pages of literature to tell you how things work. While the other magical practitioners are the musicians who understand the feel of magic and trust their instincts in how to properly incant a spell.

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