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D&D 5E Categories of Magic

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Miracles (sometimes “divine magic”) are the incredible feats performed by the priests of the celestial gods. Their workings are mysterious to the uninitiated, though any who choose to devote themselves to the cult of a God can be taught how to perform them. Holy warriors of the gods, for example, are often taught certain miracles that allow them to smite the enemies of the faith.

Druidism (sometimes “primal magic”) is the cult-like practice of the followers of the Old Gods. Very little is understood about it among decent, civilized folk, apart from the so-called “Rangers” who brave the wilds to maintain safe trade routes and the like, many of whom still observe the old faith (and let’s be honest, how “civilized” that lot truly are is up for debate.)

Wizardry (sometimes “arcane magic”) is the seemingly inexplicable things the Wise (or “Wizards”) do. Its study and practice have historically been very strictly regulated by the schools of magic, though since the collapse of Bael Turath, those institutions no longer exist. A few wise folk carry on these arcane traditions, though they are highly selective with who they will pass their secret knowledge on to.

Bardic music is unusual, in that it appears to have very similar effects to the magic worked by wizards who carry on the tradition of the School of Enchantment, yet its practice was taught and regulated by the Bardic Colleges rather than the Schools of Magic. It is widely believed that the Colleges branched off from the Enchantment School, and were permitted to regulate themselves for complex political reasons, though practitioners of either tradition would deny this, claiming that what they each do is very different from (and superior to) the other. Because the Colleges were far less esoteric than the Schools of Magic, they have come out of the collapse of Bael Turath much more intact. Although the colleges as institutions of higher learning no longer exist, the bardic traditions are very much alive, operating more like guilds now despite maintaining the name “Colleges.”

Sorcery is the power certain rare individuals are born with. These poor souls cursed with such abilities are at once feared, hated, pitied, and envied by ordinary folk. Some say that the schools of magic were originally founded by sorcerers who wished to create a safe environment for others like them to learn to harness and control their abilities, though many dismiss this as idle speculation with no basis in fact.

Witchcraft is foul magic, condemned as heretical by the cults of the Gods and the Wise alike. It is said that witches sell their souls to Asmodeus, the Fae Monarchs, or other malevolent entities for power. Many of the noble houses of Bael Turath turned to witchcraft, and this is widely viewed as the reason for the nation’s eventual collapse.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
I would prefer these things to have a reason or purpose in the world setting as opposed to sorting these things out for the sake of making sense of a patchwork gaming tradition. The World Axis of 4E, for example, did tie the different forms of magic into the cosmos as the writers tried to make D&D's fluff more coherent.
 

Harzel

Adventurer
So in another thread, people were discussing the categories of the D&D spells. The conversation moved to whether magic should but categorized by power source, by the iconic class archetype, spheres, or some other method.

So I was wondering how the community would divide and define them.

Arcane: Magic gained by following the fundamental rules of magic of the world.
Divine: Magic coming from gods.
Eldritch: Magic coming from powerful beings that are neither gods, nature spirits, or greater elemental powers
Elemental: Magic sourced from raw elements or from greater powers of the Inner Realms or Elemental Chaos
Nature: Magic that this filtered through nature either from a nature deity or nature's divinity itself
Primal: Magic from nature and ancestor nature spirits.

Overall, a good, interesting list. But, hey, you posted it on the internet, so let's pick it apart. :geek::unsure:

Arcane - This description sounds more like a method or practice (like @Doug McCrae's #2) than a source; that is, more "how" than "what". Perhaps the "what" is something more like "the magic (or magical energy) that permeates all things in the physical world", similar to, but perhaps not exactly the same as The Weave.

Eldritch - I think I get what you are going for here, but this description only partly says what it is (Magic coming from powerful beings), but then the rest just says what it's not, which kind of makes it a catch-all or "other" category. I guess you'd have to focus on a particular cosmology to say what other powerful beings those are, exactly, and why they all happen to work the same way.

Elemental - "Magic sourced from raw elements" seems to me like a subset of what you might have been going for with Arcane. On the other hand "from greater powers of the Inner Realms or Elemental Chaos" sounds more like a specific instance of what you described under Eldritch.

Nature - First, "filtered" seems a little odd here in that it seems to beg the question of what the ultimate/original source of this magic is. Second, I, at least, would want to decide whether nature deities are just particular gods or whether they are aspects of "nature's divinity itself". If the former, then I'd punt the "nature deity" part back to Divine. But in either case, while I kind of like the phrase "nature's divinity itself", I might go for something more parallel to the description of Arcane I suggested above, perhaps something like "the magic (or 'magical energy', or maybe just 'power') that permeates (or arises from) all living things".

Although on reflection that might be a bit narrow since many conceptions of Nature extend beyond the things generally classified as "living". I'm not sure exactly how I'd want to fix that.

Also, that sounds kind of Star Wars The Force - ish, but trying to think about the difference, The Force always seemed mainly concerned with sentient life. I mean, did uprooting a shrubbery ever cause a Disturbance in The Force? Star Wars experts are welcome to correct my misconceptions.

Primal - As others have noted, the distinction between Primal and Nature is a bit unclear. However, you mention ancestors here, which is a category that largely gets overlooked in D&D. Ancestor spirits might be seen as nature spirits, but needn't be. I think maybe Ancestral should be a category unto itself.

So, then, what's my list? I guess it's something like
Arcane (as redescribed above)
Divine (your description seems fine)
Eldritch - Yeah, I want something here, if for no other reason than "eldritch" is such a great word. Idk, maybe an "other" category is ok - it's a category for magic we just don't have a good explanation for. (?)
Nature - I just want it to be a source on it's own, not a "filtered" version of something else.
Ancestral - Magic arising from the connection of a creature to the spirits of its ancestors. Probably only a thing in particular cosmologies. Also begs several interesting questions such as do ancestral spirits have any volition and if so, do they have to be willing?

Well what's the point of doing this?

To see how you see magic in D&D.

Sure, ok, but I personally would find the topic much, much more interesting if we were to talk about how the different categories of magic might have differing game mechanics associated with them. It's a lot more work to make them feel different in the game if the game mechanics treat them all the same.
 

I created my own system for it.

Magic can be channeled from the ground, air or water (usually with the aid of a staff, to guide the flow of magic, but this is slower). For this the caster must be physically in contact with the ground or the water. The staff helps guide and aim the magic, while protecting the caster. The limitless supply of magic is useful for powerful spells that take longer to cast.

It can also be channeled from the self (which is quick, but also limited). Channeling from the self is not without risks, which is why wands are recommended, to aim the magic away from your own body. This is useful for simple spells that are easy to cast.

...and from focus items (which contain a limited amount of magic). This is similar as channeling from the self, since the magic still passes through your body. Again, wands are recommended while casting.

Within my laws of magic, magic itself can be harmful to the caster if he is not trained. Which is why casters use implements to help direct magic away from themselves, and why they wear clothing with isulating properties. Magic can be divine, arcane, or unspecified.
 

Talltomwright

Explorer
As a child of 2E I can't shift the idea that there are two flavours of magic: Arcane, which comes from the manipulating the subtle connections between the planes and Divine, which is like an emergent property of life, but is intensely focused in the Gods. (Then there was psionics as the third leg of the magic stool) And I liked the world-building aspects; some cultures could be very suspicious of arcane magic, but love divine magic, for example. But the proliferation of spellcasters by 5e does break this down.

My best attempt is; Wizards do things the hard way by learning how the planar connections work, sorcerers have an instinctive understanding and so their magic is crude but effective, and Warlocks are taught shortcuts by their patrons, Bards by picking up some wizard tricks and making them work with their performance skills (same for arcane tricksters). Clerics and Paladins draw the divine from their gods, Druids and Rangers (and Totem Warrior Barbarians, etc.) direct from nature. Monks draw their ki from the flow of energy in their own body, and if I find a version of psionics I like for 5e I'd say it's an applied branch of that. But there are so many different subclasses with wacky powers that this soon breaks down (four element monks, etc.) So if I'm keeping all the subclasses available then, yes 'magic is just magic,' is the only reasonable conclusion.

In the world I am homebrewing I'm trying to follow the Arcane vs. the Divine because I think it creates interesting tensions and I have a cultural split between people who live in towns vs the wilderness. Within the towns Clerics and Wizards have very different roles in society, equally respected, but distinct and both persecute anyone who doesn't do magic 'the right way.' Druids and Rangers and Barbarians draw the divine direct from nature, which the Clerics find an affront to the Gods so they are outcasts; and the Fey of the outlands can be patrons to Warlocks. I'm going to ditch sorcerers entirely as one magic class too many, same for monks as I'm modelling it more on medieval Europe. There is one evil Deity or Force who has Clerics (of Death and/or Trickery) and its minions can become patrons to warlocks; both work to undermine civilisation in the towns by pretending to be Clerics and Wizards. Seems like enough variety for one world!
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Eldritch - I think I get what you are going for here, but this description only partly says what it is (Magic coming from powerful beings), but then the rest just says what it's not, which kind of makes it a catch-all or "other" category. I guess you'd have to focus on a particular cosmology to say what other powerful beings those are, exactly, and why they all happen to work the same way.

To me, Eldritch is "scientific" like Arcane. The difference is, it wrapped up in powerful beings. Only those beings can get access to it naturally. So without a "patron" offering part of themselves, you can'taccess it. Even greater powers and normal gods/titans can't access it without aid.

Elemental - "Magic sourced from raw elements" seems to me like a subset of what you might have been going for with Arcane. On the other hand "from greater powers of the Inner Realms or Elemental Chaos" sounds more like a specific instance of what you described under Eldritch.

Nature - First, "filtered" seems a little odd here in that it seems to beg the question of what the ultimate/original source of this magic is. Second, I, at least, would want to decide whether nature deities are just particular gods or whether they are aspects of "nature's divinity itself". If the former, then I'd punt the "nature deity" part back to Divine. But in either case, while I kind of like the phrase "nature's divinity itself", I might go for something more parallel to the description of Arcane I suggested above, perhaps something like "the magic (or 'magical energy', or maybe just 'power') that permeates (or arises from) all living things".

Although on reflection that might be a bit narrow since many conceptions of Nature extend beyond the things generally classified as "living". I'm not sure exactly how I'd want to fix that.

Also, that sounds kind of Star Wars The Force - ish, but trying to think about the difference, The Force always seemed mainly concerned with sentient life. I mean, did uprooting a shrubbery ever cause a Disturbance in The Force? Star Wars experts are welcome to correct my misconceptions.

Primal - As others have noted, the distinction between Primal and Nature is a bit unclear. However, you mention ancestors here, which is a category that largely gets overlooked in D&D. Ancestor spirits might be seen as nature spirits, but needn't be. I think maybe Ancestral should be a category unto itself.

A lot of my generalist talk is to match the various D&D setting. To make sense in FR, Greyhawk, etc. So it leaves a lot of holes.

In my own setting,
Elemental magic is from the elemental titans and their children that lost the Creation war. (basically greek gods)

Nature magic comes from the energy that was used to create the material plane

Primal magic comes from the animal, plant, and mold spirits of the various beings of the nature as well as ancestor spirits of humaniods who broke away from the soul-grabbing of the Creation war's remnants.



So the fullcaster of the types of magic are

Arcane: Wizard, Bard, Artificer
Divine: Cleric, Sorcerer (some)
Eldritch: Warlock, Sorcerer (some)
Elemental: Summoner, Sorcerer (some)
Nature: Druid
Primal: Shaman, Sorcerer (some)
 
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SkidAce

Hero
Supporter
I have had two basic ideas of magic, though I have never full developed them:

Quintessential Magic: This is magic from the foundation of the universe, the magic of creation. It it covers divine, elemental, primal, nature, etc. Those are just different methods of access the fundamental magic of the multiverse.

Arcane Magic: This is magic from outside the multiverse, from the void or the far realm. It is the source of eldritch and arcane magics. It either needs to be gifted by eldritch horrors, and obtained and controlled through research, rituals and rare ingredients, complex words and gestures to open the gates to another reality - if ever so briefly.

I couldn't use this for my current long running (80's) homebrew, but its fantastic idea for a more one off game or adventure path that explores the difference.
 

I would categorize them in the following way:

Arcane: as you said it comes from the understanding of the rules/laws of magic and main practitioners include wizards and artificers.

Divine: magic that is granted from the gods (no matter how present or absent they are from the world), from faith to certain beliefs or a sacred oath. Practitioners of the divine are clerics and paladins.

Primal: Here I would combine what you have separately as Nature and Primal categories. Nature as a separate entity, nature/wild spirits and totems can easily be in the same category. Primal powers are granted to druids and rangers.

Eldritch/Occult: I like this category mostly because it fits the warlock and sorcerer so well. This power arises from powerful beings that do not belong in the Arcane/Divine/Primal categories. The power is either inherited, stolen, granted as part of a favor/deal or gained by accident.

Psionics/Psychic: The power of the mind also far realm? The Psion/Mystic fits here, not sure about the monk though.

I would not make a separate category for Elemental powers because they can fit in all categories. However, the more "raw elemental power of nature" spells would go to Primal (storms, earthquakes, blizzards, volcanic eruptions) and the more controlled to the Arcane.

Bards are jack of all trades and can tap in all power sources. ;)
 

Harzel

Adventurer
To me, Eldritch is "scientific" like Arcane. The difference is, it wrapped up in powerful beings. Only those beings can get access to it naturally. So without a "patron" offering part of themselves, you can'taccess it. Even greater powers and normal gods/titans can't access it without aid.



A lot of my generalist talk is to match the various D&D setting. To make sense in FR, Greyhawk, etc. So it leaves a lot of holes.

In my own setting,
Elemental magic is from the elemental titans and their children that lost the Creation war. (basically greek gods)

Nature magic comes from the energy that was used to create the material plane

Primal magic comes from the animal, plant, and mold spirits of the various beings of the nature as well as ancestor spirits of humaniods who broke away from the soul-grabbing of the Creation war's remnants.



So the fullcaster of the types of magic are

Arcane: Wizard, Bard, Artificer
Divine: Cleric, Sorcerer (some)
Eldritch: Warlock, Sorcerer (some)
Elemental: Summoner, Sorcerer (some)
Nature: Druid
Primal: Shaman, Sorcerer (some)

Oh, interesting. Thanks for the clarification.
 

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