D&D General How does magic work in D&D (In-Universe/Lorewise)?

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
the game doesn't even offer an abstraction.
<snip>

And than I first was like the Author must be bad. But than I read up and was like: she just put in the book what was in then rule books: nothing but the effects of the magic. None of the whys.
As others have offered, I’m not sure the game designers want to go into the explanation because any explanation limits their design space. How do you think they can have a unified magic theory with wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks all accessing arcane magic in radically different ways? Or explain the difference between warlocks and clerics, both of whom receive magic from a patron?
 

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As others have offered, I’m not sure the game designers want to go into the explanation because any explanation limits their design space. How do you think they can have a unified magic theory with wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks all accessing arcane magic in radically different ways? Or explain the difference between warlocks and clerics, both of whom receive magic from a patron?

Sure, they don't, but I kinda preferred if they would. I think the magic classes would be more coherent if there was actually some rough outline of how their magic differs and that would be reflected in the mechanics. I for one still do not have an explanation for warlock that doesn't make them some other class. Like if they channel the power of a magical superbeing, how is that not just a cleric? Or if they're altered by their patron to be a magical being, how is that not just a sorcerer? Or if they're gifted with magical knowledge, how is that not just a wizard?
 

Voadam

Legend
How do you think they can have a unified magic theory with wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks all accessing arcane magic in radically different ways?
Same power source, different techniques. And do not forget bards. :)
Or explain the difference between warlocks and clerics, both of whom receive magic from a patron?
One taps divine magic, one taps arcane magic. Slightly different techniques for doing so.

Druids tap divine magic like clerics, but use fairly similar but slightly different techniques. Clerics of different gods generally tap the same type of power source (divine) with the same tradition of techniques (clerical casting). Clerics of the same god using different domains have mostly the same techniques but the magical practice for the domain stuff is more similar to clerics of different gods using the same domain.
 


James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Here is some narrative explanation from D&D's past, page 40 of the 1e DMG by Gygax:

SPELL CASTING
All magic and cleric spells are similar in that the word sounds, when combined into whatever patterns are applicable, are charged with energy from the Positive or Negative Material Plane. When uttered, these sounds cause the release of this energy, which in turn triggers a set reaction. The release of the energy contained in these words is what causes the spell to be forgotten or the writing to disappear from the surface upon which it is written.
The triggering action draws power from some plane of the multiverse. Whether the spell is an abjuration, conjuration, alteration, enchantment, or whatever, there is a flow of energy — first from the spell caster, then from some plane to the area magicked or enspelled by the caster. The energy flow is not from the caster per se, it is from the utterance of the sounds, each of which is charged with energy which is loosed when the proper formula and/or ritual is completed with their utterance. This power then taps the desired plane (whether or not the spell user has any idea of what or where it is) to cause the spell to function. It is much like plugging in a heater; the electrical outlet does not hold all of the electrical energy to cause the heater to function, but the wires leading from it, ultimately to the power station, bring the electricity to the desired location.
Many spells also require somatic motions in conjunction with words. The spoken words trigger the release of the magical energy, and the hand movements are usually required in order to control and specify the direction, target, area, etc., of the spell effects. When spell energy is released, it usually flows to the Prime Material from the Positive or Negative Material Plane. To replace it, something must flow back in reverse. The dissolution and destruction of material components provides the energy that balances out this flow, through the principle of similarity. Sometimes this destruction is very slow, as is the case with druids’ mistletoe. Those spells without apparent material components are actually utilizing the air exhaled by the magic-user in the utterance of the spell.
Release of word/sound-stored energy is not particularly debilitating to the spell caster, as he or she has gathered this energy over a course of time prior to the loosing of the power. It comes from outside the spell caster, not from his or her own vital essence. The power to activate even a first level spell would leave a spell caster weak and shaking if it were drawn from his or her personal energy, and a third level spell would most certainly totally drain the caster’s body of life!
Because spells tap power from other planes, any improper casting is likely to cause the spell not to function (the heater is turned on, but you haven’t plugged it in, or you’ve plugged it in but not turned it on) or to malfunction (you held onto the prongs of the plug when you tapped the current, or you accidently dropped the heater as you were plugging it in, or perhaps you plugged in some other appliance or device by mistake). Such happenings are covered in the various chances for spell malfunction. If your players inquire as to how spells work, or fail to do so, you can explain, without difficulty, the precepts of the AD&D magic spell systems. (For background reading you can direct campaign participants to Vance’s THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD and THE DYING EARTH as well as to Bellairs’ THE FACE IN THE FROST.)
I'd forgotten that Gary had called out Bellairs as an inspiration for D&D magic!
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Same power source, different techniques. And do not forget bards. :)

One taps divine magic, one taps arcane magic. Slightly different techniques for doing so.

Druids tap divine magic like clerics, but use fairly similar but slightly different techniques. Clerics of different gods generally tap the same type of power source (divine) with the same tradition of techniques (clerical casting). Clerics of the same god using different domains have mostly the same techniques but the magical practice for the domain stuff is more similar to clerics of different gods using the same domain.
We already know all of that. That’s all just a description that works fine for the game. But that’s no unified theory or description of magic from an in-game lore perspective. At least, it doesn’t fit what the OP is getting at. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s OK. The game doesn’t need it. It’s OK if some inner working workings of magic are undefined.
 

Voadam

Legend
What is the difference between divine and arcane magic?
Top level view is that, at least in some editions, they are two different sources for getting to similar magic effects with slight differences. Different things are associated with the different power sources, gods with divine power for example.

You can use both to do the same general things, a cleric casting detect magic or a wizard doing so, a paladin casting cure wounds or a bard doing so. A few differences like specific paladin powers versus warlock invocation magic and the general things that divine versus arcane are known for.

More specifics depend on campaign and cosmology. Whether divine power comes from the astral sea in a 4e Dawn War cosmology or whether divine power comes from gods themselves or is everywhere but just a type of magical power that gods and divine casters use is going to be a campaign by campaign and DM by DM type decision.
 

Top level view is that, at least in some editions, they are two different sources for getting to similar magic effects with slight differences. Different things are associated with the different power sources, gods with divine power for example.

You can use both to do the same general things, a cleric casting detect magic or a wizard doing so, a paladin casting cure wounds or a bard doing so. A few differences like specific paladin powers versus warlock invocation magic and the general things that divine versus arcane are known for.

More specifics depend on campaign and cosmology. Whether divine power comes from the astral sea in a 4e Dawn War cosmology or whether divine power comes from gods themselves or is everywhere but just a type of magical power that gods and divine casters use is going to be a campaign by campaign and DM by DM type decision.
Right. So no clear difference. I can see "It is magic from gods/spirits/etc" i.e. it is channelled magic as a sensible difference, but then I don't see how a patron channelling magic to the warlocks wouldn't make that divine magic. 🤷
 

Voadam

Legend
We already know all of that.
Exactly, this is stuff that is generally in the game.
That’s all just a description that works fine for the game. But that’s no unified theory or description of magic from an in-game lore perspective.
It can absolutely work from an in-game lore perspective too. That works fine for an in-character discussion on magical theory. As a wizard PC and as a DM I have had such discussions in character. You can in-character discuss spells and theories of D&D magic that match up to the rules and the game parts of the magic.
At least, it doesn’t fit what the OP is getting at. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s OK. The game doesn’t need it. It’s OK if some inner working workings of magic are undefined.
At some point you can drill down further than the explanation we have goes and the in game lore explanation will generally be "don't know" or "its a mystery." I think that is fine too.
 

Voadam

Legend
Right. So no clear difference. I can see "It is magic from gods/spirits/etc" i.e. it is channelled magic as a sensible difference, but then I don't see how a patron channelling magic to the warlocks wouldn't make that divine magic. 🤷
In D&D there is a lot of overlap of magic effects from different sources. There is little solid difference between them as a hard dividing line but there are differences in some specifics. Warlocks can do arcane invocation magics while clerics can do domain powers.

Most magic is overlapping between the power sources though with spells and accessing magic through classes and subclasses in 5e.

It has been this way pretty much since 0e when clerics were made as a combo fighter-magic user with some specific focus and flavor of their own (turning, healing, not really artillery, miracle themed spells).

3e had a harder line between the two types, making the distinction official for one and tying some specific rules to the distinction such as arcane spell failure in armor.

As for patrons versus gods the implication of arcane magic versus divine is that patrons and their pacts are doing something different from gods and divine spirits. It therefore would not be that the divine is just stuff coming from a spirit or god. Either tapping a different source of power or channeling it differently, or something else. So Asmodeus as God and Archdevil can offer both slightly different types of power and have clerics and warlocks, while most gods are just divine types.

It is more a "what is" based explanation than a "why" explanation. Sort of a scientific inquiry based on the evidence we have to create theories of magic. Which works great in-character for intelligence based casters who study and learn magic. :)
 

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