5th Edition,  D&D,  DMXP,  RPG,  World Building

From the Ground Up – Schools and Concepts of Magic

(PS: I would love to have an orange/black version of the above image, or one like it, I just can’t seem to do the right editing to it. Help anyone?)

The Last three weeks have talked about the fundamentals of magic, how it exists, how the world at large is suffused with it, and how spellcasters tap into it. This week I want to talk a bit about all the categories that a spellcaster can think of magic in.

In many worlds and realms, Magic is subdivided in order to give those studying it more of a grasp on how to discuss and understand the mystical trappings of the universe. Most often these divisions are refered to as schools, but just as often they are divided up differently from threads to elements to Spheres. All of this helps frame discussions of magic in familiar and easy to understand, at least for the magical scholar anyway, terms and systems. 


Schools are the division of magic based on either the effect created or the method of creation. This breaks down into roughly 8 schools of magic. What is interesting about the schools of magic is that it crosses the lines of methodology. A priest, a monk, and a warlock all use the same schools of magic, even if their ways of utilizing and creating magic are different. While the origins are different, they still can be categorized thus: 

Many times, these are simple enough categories for all of magic to be defined in their broad Brushstrokes

Abjuration – Protection and warning magic, including wards, shields, barriers and countermagic. This application of magic is extremely defensive, protecting from the elements, elemental damage, detection, and harm. 

Evocation – The use of magical energy to create a highly visible and detrimental affect, often weaponized. This is the study of creating from magic. It uses the raw power of magic to give form and function to the desires of the wielder. Fireballs, Lightningbolts and Magical Missiles are all possible through Evocation.

Conjuration – The summoning of a material or creature to your location. This differs from Evocation as conjuration brings the object to you, and evocation creates the object in its entirety. Conjurations source is magical, but the object is not. For instance: If you conjure a flame, then you have brought flame from elsewhere to you. You now have a perfectly normal fire. If you invoke fire, then you have created a magical flame that burns of magic-stuff. 

Divination – The simple act of magically knowing. Divination taps into the world itself to provide you with knowledge of some sort. This can be location, type, distance, etc. Everything that can be known via a spell is deduced through divination. 

Illusion – This is to transmutation what Evocation is to conjuration. Illusion wraps the target in pure magicstuff in order for the object to appear as something completely different. Illusion makes the pit seem like a continuous floor, The moldy bread look like a fancy scone. None of the magic is real, and under scrutiny it will all fail to some degree. A simple, magical disguise. 

Transmutation – The magic of physically morphing one object into something other than what it is. Sometimes you’ll transmute lead to gold, and other times you’ll transmute a dragon to a rabbit. Each of the instances is complete rearrangement of the subject. Repairing, reshaping and re-purposing are the main objectives of transmutation. 

Necromancy – The magic of life and death. Mostly death, really. Its strange that Vitamancy isn’t as much a thing, but I guess its because the tending of the living is much less sinister than the tending of the dead. The magic of necromancy is that which animates, populates and desecrates the remains of the dead and the dying. Often this will take the form or animation of the corpse. Additionally, the removal or transference of life energy is considered necromancy. While Evocation creates magical effects that will damage you, and conjuration may summon a swarm of bees that will cause you damage, necromancy simply drains your life force, diminishing it and you. 

Enchantment – The Magic of enhancement, power and control, enchantment covers a wide spectrum of effects, much like evocations. Enchantment can convince the mind to do things it normally wouldn’t, it can enhance with raw magical power weapons and armor, and it can be imbued into objects to contain other spells. Enchantment is the most subtle and one of the most dangerous of all the schools of magic because when used well, you have little to no knowledge that it was used at all. 


What makes the schools attractive beyond even their breakdown of the barriers of the forms of magic is that they contain the whole of magic within the eight disciplines. Regardless of how or what the result of the magical application is, it can be contained within the basic confines of the schools, as they are both deep and wide in their net.  Some sages, however, divide magic differently. 

Personally, while I enjoy the divisions of magic into schools, I find it hard to apply within a world. Many applications span multiple schools and can create a strange overlap where none should exist. This is doubly so in worlds where antithesis exist, cutting off a portion of applicable spells from time to time. Personally, I prefer an inclusive, open magical system that overlays the schools of magic. While scholars and learned men use their fancy terms and educated speak to communicate ideas, the rest of the world uses magic as its intended. Among the divisions

Pyromancer – Mages that invoke fire magic of all sorts, calling out blasts of fire from the sky and summing otherworldly fires to protect themselves and their allies. 

Geomancer – Mages the invoke earth magic, creating and forming earth and stone to their whim, traversing stone and rock as if it was air itself, bending mountains and boulders to their will. 

Aquamancer – Purveyors of water and masters of rain, Aquamancers control the liquid of life itself. Able to create, summon and control water, they are treasured in both agricultural and urban areas, providing much needed services to those nearby. 

Aeromancer – Able to control the flow and pace of the elemental Air, Aeromancers are underappreciated in many places. Able to snuff out light and life when controlled correctly, they are dangerous to those who cross them. 

Cryomancer  – those in control of Ice, Cryomancers bind, hold and contain as well as desiccate with a devastating power over cold. 

Electromancer – Those who can control the volatile and unpredictable power of electricity, able to use it both defensively, and with powerful offensive capabilities. 

Vitamancer – Those practitioners of magic who are strong in the ability to grant and control life. Though they often have the capability of snuffing it out as well as fostering, Vitamancers tend toward the beneficial abilities of their powers. 

Chronomancer – Time mages, some of the most powerful beings in the multiverse. Able to manipulate time like you or I would breathe, they are able to shape the past, present and future to their desire, being great foes and great enemies. 

Shadowmancer – Manipulators of darkness and shadow, Shadowmancers are much closer to ninjas and assassins than you or I would associate a mage with. Each of these practitioners can use shadows to obfuscate and confuse as well as simply kill their opponents. 

What I really like about an elemental and usage based system is that it gives the creators – players, writers, DM’s, whoever, the opportunity to build and form new systems every time they play. Its an interesting and enjoyable way to create unique story lines. When you confine yourself to a single method of magic that is highly rigid, you lock yourself into place and need to know many of the ins and outs of the system before attempting to execute it. It is a binding system that doesn’t serve the people who want to flex their creative might. 

The school system works fine, don’t get me wrong, it just isn’t an open system that encourages diversity and unique takes. I like both systems, and find great enjoyment in trying out new Magic Paths with character concepts and villains.

Finally, I encourage you to think on how magic is categorized in your world and how it is applied. While we’ve a solid grasp on what magic is and how its used, the way it is talked and thought about will be how your audience consumes it. While both schools and elemental concepts can be lifted whole and applied, and I applaud you for doing so if it fits your vision, if it does not, then I would definitely try and work out a better system for that vision, one that meshes well and does what you want it to.


Until next week!