Science Fiction role-playing games (RPG’s) have their high-tech gadgets, Steampunk their quirky sense of nostalgia and historical games an ability to let the players travel back in time. The attraction of gaming in a fantasy environment is often the access to the miracles and wonders which come with the use of magic. Nowhere is this more fully realised than in Dungeons & Dragons 5e and its many Schools of Magic.
The Story So Far
When D&D first appeared you could opt for being a “Magic-User” as one of the character options. And whilst there were plenty of different spells to learn and wield, each Magic-User was pretty similar to the next. One of the great achievements of the game has been the evolution of the magic system, the idea of wizard schools and the various wizard subclasses which can wield spells.
In the current edition, known as 5e, these simple beginnings have grown into a full 8 Schools of Magic:
- The School of Abjuration;
- The School of Conjuration;
- The School of Divination;
- The School of Enchantment;
- The School of Evocation;
- The School of Illusion;
- The School of Necromancy;
- The School of Transmutation.
Wizards can either opt to study all magics and as such will have access to all manner of spells. More often than not a Wizard will choose to specialise in one particular type of magic. This will mean that whilst some spells are unavailable to them, they will have greater power in their chosen school.
The Eight Schools of Magic 5e
Magical spells are as unique and different from each other as the people wielding them. But most fall into 8 broad classes and a School of Magic has evolved around the broad magical crafts. There are always rogue wizards and rare magical sub-classes to be encountered and defeated but generally most spell casters encountered will fall into one of the following schools.
The School of Abjuration
The School of Abjuration specialises in the art of blocking or deflecting spells. Its followers are adept in all manner of protections from personal defence and forming eldritch shield walls around their own body. They can also cast warding spells which protect buildings and spaces, which cause harm to trespassers or magically lock doors or boxes. Abjurers are seen as wilding defensive magic but sometimes those defences can pack a real punch.
The School of Conjuration
Conjurers are skilled in the art of transportation and the ability to move objects and creatures from one location to another. This may take the form of summoning, the ability to draw creatures and objects instantaneously to the wizard’s side, sometimes from parallel or magical realms. At their most powerful they may even summon new realities by creating wishes or changing the course of recent history.
The School of Divination
When you want to know something, you turn to a Diviner. Divination is the craft of garnering information that might not be found out by normal means. These wizards spells are neither offensive nor defensive but are all about revealing the true nature of things or lost knowledge. They specialise in spells which detect others thoughts, they can converse with animals and spirits, see-through invisibility spells and remote viewing. The latter often over hundreds of miles.
The School of Enchantment
The skills of the Enchanter or focused around the idea of convincing weaker-minded people to act in a certain way at the wizard’s suggestion. Their spells take over the victim’s rational mind temporarily and cause them to be controlled from afar, to act at the mercy of the Enchanter. They might be put to sleep, befriend enemies, act illogically and generally become a puppet for their master.
The School of Evocation
This school is perhaps the best know because its spells create effects which are most obvious and often aggressive. An Evoker manipulates bundles of energy which it can use to fashion into lighting bolts or fireballs delivering high hit dice of damage, cause earth tremors or create spirit weapons. But those same destructive forces can also be used in more passive ways and an Evoker might just as readily be found healing and curing wounds.
The School of Illusion
An Illusionist is a magical trickster with the ability to decide the sense and confuse the minds of others. They specialise in changing perceptions or creating beguiling and befuddling images to confuse and control their victims. They can confer invisibility on their friends, create spectral images to terrify their foes. Their magic does change the world around them but possesses the mind of their enemies so that they can’t tell reality from illusion.
The School of Necromancy
People talk in dreaded tones about this school and its power over life and death. Necromancers can bring the world of the living and the dead realms beyond. The most powerful having the ability to drain the life force of the victim and send souls to their resting place. Their ability to raise the fallen into undead servants makes them shunned by normal folk but often they are sought out because of their powers of resurrection and resuscitation of those about to leave this world.
The School of Transmutation
Transmutation is the act of altering your physical surroundings, be it a place, an object or a creature. This can take many forms. They might physically change an adversary into a harmless creature, mend or change physical surfaces or object and even change the flow of time. They are powerful aggressors, causing weapons to melt and allies to be physically enhanced but their powers can also be used to speed up healing or undo critical injuries.
There is also a ninth category, the Universal spell-type. Not a school as such but a pool of spells which are available to all wizards irrespective of any school or specialisation they have chosen.
Which Wizard School is Right For You?
As with any role-playing game, the choices you make relate to how you want to play the game. This is never more true when making selections such as character class and sub-class, this includes your choice of which School of Magic you want your Wizard to specialise in. So let’s look at those schools again and see just what personality traits and style of play they best represent.
- The School of Abjuration – Abjurers tend to be magical protectors, they are found in the thick of battle using their powerful defensive spells to shield their allies as they hack and slash their way through their enemies. They are the macho men and empowered women of the magical world.
- The School of Conjuration – Conjurors are the artists and artisans of the wizarding world. They are seen as focused, innovative and perhaps lost in their own imaginations and so a bit introvert. But their ability to conjure things out of thin air makes them both useful and admired.
- The School of Divination – Diviners are the know-it-all’s, the “I told you so” wizards, always trying to juggle their own destiny whilst predicting the fate of others. They understand that fate is not a fixed thing and can be bent to their own will. Why take things at face value when the powerful can change the course of history?
- The School of Enchantment – By their very nature, Enchanters want to be liked. They want others to do their bidding, they take great delight in having others serve them, they are often arrogant and charismatic and get a real kick out of being the one pulling all the strings, and doing so from a safe distance.
- The School of Evocation – The Evoker is generally outward-looking, bursting for a fight and revels in destruction and aggressive spell-slinging. They are often found at the front of the combat alongside the fighters but see themselves as much more skilled and elegant in their art for not having to rely on swinging huge swords or having to strap themselves into metal coats for protection.
- The School of Illusion – The Illusionist is an enigma. Things are never what they seem and their ability to blend reality with illusion makes others question whether they are to be trusted at all. They are generally found hiding in the shadows, often of their own making, acting mysterious and amused by those who take the world around them at face value.
- The School of Necromancy – Often shunned by regular folk, The Necromancer is solitary and secretive. But why endanger yourself when you can raise a contingent of undead beings to do your bidding? Life and death are just two parts of the same journey, just because you stand on the bridge between doesn’t mean that you are doing anything unnatural.
- The School of Transmutation – Transmuters see the world around them as their plaything, basic clay to be moulded into whatever you might need. They are innovative and practical but are often found in their workshops working to discover those all-powerful alchemical procedures. They are often socially awkward but only through a lake of interaction.
Non-Wizards and the Magical World
So far we have just concerned ourselves with the Schools of Magic, the paths followed by Wizards as they specialise and immerse themselves in a particular branch of magic. But the world of D&D is a strange and complex place and it isn’t just wizards who get to use magic. As the game has evolved over the years, as official supplements and scenarios have opened this realm even further, magic has been made available to non-wizard character classes. After all, it is perfectly logical that other skills and disciplines would evolve between the world of pure wizardry and the more worldly pursuits.
Here are some of the more established magic types and classes who have access to them which have been added to the canon over the years.
Bards have always had a sense of magic about them, enthralling people through the telling of tales and charming them with their song. And whilst they have access to spells throughout their career, at higher levels, they gain the ability to blend magic and physical attacks, instrumentation and spells into one devastating action.
Not so much a school but a whole new variant on spell casting where the Blood Mage draws power from their own life force, sacrificing their own hit points to power their spells. This usually comes about via a Blood Pact with a powerful deity or spirit.
Combining the skills of being a Sage, an alchemist and a Scholar, Black Mages are those who have turned to the dark side, are agents for destruction and evil, admired and feared in equal measure.
Chaos or Wild Magic is the art of the Sorcerer. These are people who have turned their attention to the untamed magics which surge through the universe, bending them to their will and often leaving the world a changed and more chaotic place in their wake.
Time does not move at a fixed speed. Neither does it always move in the same direction. Chromancers are those who have learned to manipulate the very flow of time, altering its speed or even reversing it altogether.
It isn’t just the adventuring races who have access to magic. Some creatures are magical by nature and rather than learning and practising spells just seem to have it as in irate ability to be called on. The most powerful magical beings are dragons, the oldest of who is more powerful than any wizard or spell-caster from the civilised world and who rival even the gods in their magical prowess.
An Elemental Mage is one which as power over its chosen quarter of the universal balance, Air, Water, Earth to Fire. They can summon and control these elemental forces and even summon the primordial spirits who live in the heart of their chosen sphere.
Some magicians are willing to make diabolical pacts with spirits and minor deities, perhaps even demons to gain access to the use of arcane magics. These people are generally referred to as Warlocks. They are forever bound to the will of their master and are driven to further their cause, a conduit for their dark master’s bidding.
Ritual Spell Casting
Again, an approach rather than a school or type of magic. Many spells can be cast through the use of a ritual, a series of movements, words, even dance steps or song. This takes much longer than a regular spell and obviously is more likely to draw attention to the caster but doesn’t require a spell slot in the user’s magical arsenal.
Although the magic world is one of academia, of research and learning, of remembering the intricacies of spells to be recited when the moment is called for, all spell-casters have access to Cantrips. These are minor spells which don’t have to be learned, which don’t take up vital space in your memory but can instead be fired off at a moments notice with no preparation or ill effect. They are regarded as Level 0 spells and can be seen as instinctive reactions of a magical nature rather than spells in their own right.
It’s a Magical World
And even though we have covered a lot of ground here, this really is the just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to magic when playing D&D5e. It has come a long way since the homogenous magic user of the first edition. But now you can specialise in a certain magical field and chose the magic you wield to suit the character that you wish to role play. Whether you are a dark Necromancer lurking at the back of a party of dungeon adventurers, an Evoker leading the charge across the battlefield firing bolts of lightning at a regiment of Orcs or a fringe magic-user singing songs of enchantment, there is certainly something for everyone to be found in the world of D&D5e.
The Dungeons and Dragons magic system is a broad and complex place. And even this wealth of information and myriad possibilities are bounded only by the imagination. But remember, the main goal of any role-playing game is to have fun. Don’t argue over the fine details, just explore the excitement and escapism that those rules allow. If you have your head stuck in the books you will miss out on the worlds which are their to be explored and amazed at right in front of you. In short, let Dungeons and Dragons cast its spell on you.