Monday 3 August 2015

"Types of Magic" - Advice Wanted

For a small blog, I reckon we have the most energetic "commentators" I've come across (the comments word count usually exceeds the post itself!) and I'm seeking the collective wisdom once again, on the vein of the psychic powers thread.  So what's this post about?

Frostgrave - the inspiration
When reading through Frostgrave, I kinda raised my eyebrows at some of the schools of magic chosen.  Some seemed like must-have inclusions, but others seemed a bit contrived.

Elementalist, Enchanter, Illusionist, Necromancer, Summoner, Priest(Thaumage) - these are all fantasy staples.  ...but is a Chronomancer even a thing?  A Sigilist - guy who writes scrolls. Hmmm - really? Soothsayer? Maaaybe.  A Witch is not really a class of magic per se, but describes the practitioner, doesn't it?

D&D - the benchmark?
So I googled what D&D - surely an influential fantasy benchmark - did.  They seem to divide it into "arcane" and "divine."

Arcane schools include - Abjuration (protective magic), Transmutation, Summoning, Divination (okay, same as Soothsayer?), Enchantment, Evocation (energy, incl ice, fire etc - similar to Elementalist?), Illusion, Necromancy, and "universal" spells. 

Divine magic is mostly cleric magic (nature magic is kinda included - would this include witches?).    Divine magic seems to have been divided into different categories according to the editions (alignment/deity), but I get the vibe it tends to be more focussed on buff/debuff (curse/bless) and stuff like healing, or smiting undead.

 Hmm. Fairly similar to Frostgrave I guess, sans the Sigilist and Chronomancer, with a couple added.

So is D&D the definitive list?

I don't want some random magic system you saw in a homebrew RPG once - I want to narrow down the core magic "styles" which are the most common tropes.  e.g the "Lore of Waaagh" is WFB-specific, so it's no good.  However it might fit under the umbrella of a generic class of magic - perhaps "battle magic."  Should "battle magic" be a class? 

Basically, I want a "generic" list of typical magic types - the most universally recognized ones.   The categories or "big ideas" - overarching forms of magic, not small sub-groups.  I.e. geomancy could be classed under elemental magic.  

If you had to divide magic into "types" - and include the most common, recognizable ones from mainstream media (movies, books, games) - how would you categorize it?


  1. The best of the best magic orientated RPG out there is Ars Magica, you should take a look at it. But in short there is a 'universal magic system' over which are various Magical Houses that interpret that system of magic slightly differently (but in a similar enough way that they can work together). Collectively they are the Order of Hermes.

    The wiki should explain things.

    1. Fantasy "grounded" in medieval background? This might be handy for putting my Perry medievals to work.

    2. Like I said Ars Magica has a lot to work with... Plus there are sourcebooks that deal with Holy Magic (magic backed by the power of God), Demon Magic (pacts and horrible things), and Fae Magic... yeah you get where this is at.

      But its all based within a Medieval Paradigm, no Elves and Dwarves in D&D sense, just Fae, and they are way nastier than both... even the 'good' ones!

  2. Going by the definitive source (Final Fantasy V), you have:

    White Mage: Healing!
    Blue Mage: Survive getting hit by magic monsters, learn their tricks and use them back.
    Red Mage: Both of the above, not as good but twice as fast.
    Time Mage: Time-related things, like ageing the enemy to death or haste, and also crushing people with gravity for... some reason.
    Summoner: Summons big magic things.
    Mystic Knight: Black Mages who cast spells on their swords and hit and/or debuff people.
    Geomancer: Does random things based on the terrain, but it's free to use.
    Chemist: Combat Walter White.
    Necromancer: Only in the later versions, so whatever. Summons demons and a bit of Black Magic.
    Oracle: I am too lazy and/or stupid for this class."The attack used in the prediction is dependent on the prediction that happened previously with that character, as well as the last digit of the caster's MP at the time the prediction comes true. The power is dependent on the last digit of the character's HP at the time the prediction comes true." No. Go away.

    I don't really like the D&D schools, but Frostgrave's Chronomancy is more common than you'd think. Sigilist seems to overlap with the runes-guy concept, and runes-guy mages often specialise in setting traps and having one-shot attacks that can be prepared in advance.

    Sadly, Frostgrave doesn't have a Muscle Wizard class.

    1. But is the white-blue-red-black mage classes universal, or only specific to the Final Fantasy setting? Remember, I'm only interested in generic, overall classes - not the "coolest" or "best" - although I'd appreciate those to, if labelled as such...

  3. White/Black is pretty common as a healing/damage split. Black is mostly Elementalist, which is a pretty common generic class. Summoner, too, is a standard concept.

    Blue is just weird and rare. Red is more like a modern D&D bard than anything else. Neither are core magic types, although they may be done as hybrids. A lot of the common magic-user concepts are hybrids, really.

    I just had FFV on my mind due to a recent charity event.

    Ars Magica is a good thing to look at.

    1. Apologies; I cannot use reply buttons properly this early in the morning.

  4. On a somewhat unrelated topic, anyone recommend a set of "realistic" scaled 28mm wizards. You know, ones with normal human proportions, that can go with my Perrys?

    Most of the ones I see are "heroic" - oversized GW-style with chunky hands and feet...

  5. Not a cheap one, but Gandalf and Radagast from the GW line of Lord of the Rings (The Hobbit) look pretty decent, if you want to have realistic proportions. Maybe you find them on ebay.

    Otherwise, Id recommend Copplestone Castings, he had a nice set of not too overly comical wizards on sale a couple of years ago.

    1. I have both I think, in my unpainted LoTR mountain. (I only painted/based a fraction of my minis - the problem is my collection is incomplete in many areas and its too expensive to source the minis - but I DO have a Radgast, Gandalf and Saruman.

      Will check out Copplestone - thanks! I presume Reaper is primarily heroic 28/32mm?

    2. The Reaper Minis I have in my collection, definitely are.

      Sadly the excellent copplestone ones seem to be oop. Here is a link.

      If you are really interested, I might have stocked them somewhere and would be willing to trade them.

      Another option are the old Grenadier models (also designed by the Great Mark Copplestone), you can get them now from several sources like em4 or mirliton etc.

  6. I think you are overlooking an even broader divide of magic.

    Sorcerers - spell focused
    Summoners- guys who use spirits
    Enchanters - giys like alchemists who enchant things with magic
    Ritual it's - guys that have long involved spells that have long lasting or large area effects.

    Illusionists, elementalists, priests, etc. fall into even these larger categories in my mind.

    1. That's exactly the kind of ideas I'm after. The "big picture" approach rather than some obscure setting with 72 "schools" of magic

  7. Hi, it's my first comment here.

    You can classify magic according to its source (Where does the power come from?), its intentionality (What is the purpose of the power?)or the part of the reality the user wants to manipulate with it.

    From the point of view of its source, magic will be very dependent of the lore metaphysics you want to consider. We can begin with the next premise:

    -It exists some kind of reality that, with the proper interaction, a subject can alter some properties of its her reality (her surroundings, her own mind and body, her perceptions, etcetera) in a form she cannot do with natural means. (That's my definition of magic. You can call this reality "aether", "mana" or whatever you want.)

    Now, how can you "interact" with this reality? Classically, there are two ways to do it: you can manipulate it for yourself or you can do it with the "aid" of another subject. In other words, the classical dichotomy between arcane magic and divine magic.

    That's why this classification is so dependent of the metaphysics. Is there any superior being in the world (a.k.a. gods)? Is there any non-material being (a.k.a spirits, deamons and such)? Are these beings sentient? Self-aware? Is that reality quantifiable? Are ideal or material? There are lots of questions, indeed.

    Maybe magic works as a manifestation of some abstract cosmic forces (the Fate, the Life, the Mind, Light and Darkness), or works as a manifestation of a misterious inherent potential of the matter (think on the coal, that has the potential of provide light and heat with the appropriate interaction like a little flame, but on a cosmic scale).

    From the point of view of intentionality, I have mentioned it because of magic, historically speaking, was classified in that way. White magic and black magic. White magic is that you make "good" things and actions. Black magic is the opposite.

    Finally, from the point of view of what is the subject manipulating. The first classification will be if you manipulates something material o something abstract.

    The mage can manipulate the energies of the material world: kinetic energy, potential energy and inner energy. The mage can create, transmute or destroy matter, too. Or she can manipulate the frame of the same reality, altering the time, the space or the probability.

    The abstract part depends on the context, again. The thoughts, the will, the wishes, all that spiritual beings, are abstract concepts? Even create something from nowhere may be some kind of abstract magic (you have the idea, and with magic, you manifest it in the material world).

    I like the concept of "hardware" and "software" of computer science. Every action that manipulates the "hardware" of the reality will be material magic. Every action that manipulates the "software" will be abstract magic.

    My final advice: if you want to classify magic, first define its metaphysics: the "rules" it will work with. Then, its classification will be easier.

    Thanks for reading me, and forgive all my mistakes.

    1. Thanks for your input! Appreciated.

      To summarise:

      Magic = alter reality
      Arcane = you do it; Deity = others do
      Material (energy, create, transmute) or Abstract (will, wises, perception)

      For example, I did a psychic post, and divided them into
      Telekinetic (physical)
      ESPer (own perception)
      Telepath (others will/perception)
      The latter two are abstract, I guess. And the motive power is arcane (own latent psychic ability)

  8. My personal favorite magic for an RPG was from Mage the Ascension( form White Wolf, Magic had 9 fields
    Correspondence-- communication over distance and time
    Entropy-- Death decay and renewal, also chance and chaos.
    Forces-- any thing energy related
    Life-- healing, creating monsters etc
    Matter-- Shaping physical reality.
    Mind-- ESP, hypnoses also illusion
    Prime-- sort of what many RPGs call positive energy.. pure magic
    Spirit-- Ghosts, Astral project and so forth
    Time-- manipulating time and its effects (aging)

    You could theoretically do any thing, just describe the effect you want an how you plan to accomplish it and the GM would assign a difficulty number. In some cases you might need to have skill in more than one sphere to do what you wanted.

    1. A lot of those are sensible categories - from your description, maybe Prime and Correspondence are a bit questionable and could fit into another category...

    2. Prime makes reference to the "magical essence" itself. According to background, every time you create something from nowhere, you are transforming this magical essence into a material reality. If you invoke a fireball, for example, you are transforming this essence into a combustion or a burning sulphur sphere. Without this family of magic, you only can manipulate existing forms of heat energy, in other words, you will need a match or a lighter to invoke that fireball.

      Correspondence makes reference to the spatial framework of the reality. If you want to define some reality subject, you must to place it in a time and space coordinates. This kind of magic can alter this property: you can stay in two or more places at the same moment, you can create "portals" that interconnects two places (like the bottom of a hat and the cage with a rabbit), you can shrink or augment volumes (a closet may hide a football field) and, with greater control, you can create your own spatial dimensions. Furthermore, the game expands this concept to relationships. The psicometry would use this magic family, because it reveals the relations of ownership, emotivity, etc.

    3. Two more details of the previous comment.

      Prime is also related to the act of making magic. Fortify spells, countermagic, that kind of staff. The game let you use other magic families to protect you from other spells of the same family (you can conjure cold to protect you from a fireball), but with Prime, this defense becomes universal, because you are affecting the magic act itself, not its consequences.

      And Correspondende are also related to perceptions. You can create portals where you want to observe, or you can sense some "properties" in the realities of your surroundings, like "living" or "sentient" ,provided you have this capacity of sensing (for example, if you want to sense live, you will need some magical knowledge with living things).

    4. Thanks Slum my memory of the system was a bit flawed as I have not played in a number of years

    5. White Wolf's Magg The Ascension 9 Sphere was originally based on Ars Magica's 15 (5 Techniques, and 10 Forms).