D&D General What does "magic" mean? [Read carefully, you can't change your vote]

What does "magic" mean?


  • Poll closed .
This has come up plenty in various threads and forums I've participated in. Obviously not scientific, but it's the best we can do. Keep in mind, unlike most polls on this forum, you CANNOT change your vote after voting, nor can you view the results until you have voted.

By "spells/etc." I am referring to all of: actual spellcasting, magic items that cast spells (such as scrolls or wands), and magic items created through the use of spells (e.g. 3.5e/PF's crafting system, where explicit spellcasting is needed in order to craft most "magic" items). I am NOT referring to similar but distinct systems (such as psionics, Truenaming, spiritualism, etc.) that are not formally spells or the aforementioned items that produce or are produced by spellcasting.

Edit: Since more than one person has asked, if your answer would depend on whether the question is asked with regard to some specific system, or asked generically, please choose whichever of those two answers is most natural for you. If your first thought on reading this post was, "It depends on the edition/game in question," then you should probably answer based on rules of some kind (or use option 6). If your instinctive response was to consider the thematics and concept of magic generally without reference to rules, then let that guide your answer. And if you really, truly cannot settle on one or the other, again, that's what option 6 is for--your answer cannot be confined by the given limits because the question isn't sufficiently defined for you.
 
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Scribe

Hero
By "spells/etc." I am referring to all of: actual spellcasting, magic items that cast spells (such as scrolls or wands), and magic items created through the use of spells (e.g. 3.5e/PF's crafting system, where explicit spellcasting is needed in order to craft most "magic" items).

Given this.

I am NOT referring to similar but distinct systems (such as psionics, Truenaming, spiritualism, etc.) that are not formally spells or the aforementioned items that produce or are produced by spellcasting.

And then given this.

The only answer to me is:
  • "Magic" is ONLY spells/items made with spells (e.g. it excludes psionics/spirits/paranormal/etc.)
 

now, this is a difficult one.
Yeah, that was more or less the intent.

I find a lot of conversations on this topic hit a hitch because some people use "magic" as a shorthand for "supernatural." That is, everyone agrees magic is supernatural, but some folks also think that if it's supernatural it's magic, so the two are perfect synonyms. Other folks see it as "magic" is a subset of "supernatural," but disagree on whether "magic" is most supernatural things, some supernatural things, or just a very narrow slice.

This is of course not helped by the fact that a lot of people use the terms very casually while others use them very formally.
 


MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
For what purposes?

For the purpose of how I think of a fictional world, I would say anything that breaks the laws of physics to be magic. So a spider as large as a horse would be magic. (It would collapse under its own weight.)

For the purposes of D&D rules, like whether an antimagic field spell negates it or it bypasses resistance against non-magical weapons, my answer is much narrower.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
Magic to me is only spells/items made with spells or other magic such as druidic, arcane, clerical, draconic magic etc which excludes psionics, spirits or paranormal activities.
 

Are you asking what the actual rule is or what we think it ought to be?
Frankly? However you prefer to answer the question. Seriously. If your gut answer is to go to the rules of your favorite edition to determine it, then do that. If your gut answer is thematic, then do that.

For what purposes?

For the purpose of how I think of a fictional world, I would say anything that breaks the laws of physics to be magic. So a spider as large as a horse would be magic. (It would collapse under its own weight.)

For the purposes of D&D rules, like whether an antimagic field spell negates it or it bypasses resistance against non-magical weapons, my answer is much narrower.
And which would be your gut answer, the thing you would act to do first if someone casually asked you the question? Would you immediately say "well, it depends on the edition," or would you say "the way I see it..."?
 

Oofta

Legend
Supernatural is just magic by another name and vice versa for me.

Some things like anti magic zone specifically counter what I would call constructed magic but not inherent magic. So spells and crafted magic items are constructed, dragons are not.

At one point I had areas of "dead" magic (no magic at all) and a giant walked in only to collapse as all his bones broke.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
3e had a sort of classification about this, and it was a fairly good idea, the main drawback being that it was complicated and created a lot of technical tags. 4e used a completely different system, and magic in and of itself was not really a gaming element. As for 5e, there is "background magic" which is actually fairly natural for the world (and therefore not really supernatural in the sense of the game world, although it is supernatural to our world understanding and therefore "magic") and specific magic when manipulated.

All this to say that there almost never was only one answer in any given edition of the game, much less across editions. which leaves DM absolutely free to do whatever they want for their own campaign.
 



Within my game world, "magic" are the spells, effects, and items originating from the Will drawing upon heka. This is the energy and possibility coming from the Churning Maelstrom of Chaos.

Sometimes there are effects that are sufficiently advanced technology that utilize the radiance of the Radiant Obelisk of Law. These are called magic by the ignorant, but are actually the argyric sciences or disciplines.

Interacting with natural spirits, elementals, psychic abilities, and the like are tide to the Sublime Pattern of Vril. While druids draw upon vril and use it in some cases quite similarly to magicians, it is not truly magic.

Practically speaking and within the worldview, spells are those abilities that harness the power of one of the Empyrians, and magic are those effects that are not bound by natural Law. Alchemy and artifice blur those boundaries a bit.

Looking at things from a rules standpoint, if something affects "magic" it likely affects any power. There are some exceptions but those are specific and at least semi-predictable. For example, if someone hires a wizard to erect a Ward Against Diracian Portals, it will be hard to teleport into that area. But, if your will is strong and ritual potent you might be able to break through. If they hired an artificer to erect a Sideral Rectifier, an artifact of Law, you're done and need to think up another plan.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I use my "fantasy common sense" when it comes to this question. Most "supernatural" things I consider magic, however, I do not go expressly to the "if it breaks the laws of our Earth physics, it is magical" ruling though. This is because (as @MatthewJHanson mentions) it would mean creature sizes and the ability to fly at those sizes would make these creatures and animals have to be magical. And that's... I just don't feel the need to go that far. It doesn't break my "fantasy common sense" to think a Giant Ape could exist, or that a pegasus could fly with its wings able to lift its body, or that a fighter could actually cut through dragon scale (and maybe even kill a dragon) with just a regular sword. Yes, those all break our Earth-physics... but I'm willing to accept "fantasy world physics" could allow all those to happen without requiring to be "magical".

But anything related to the castings or use of spells or enchantments (including arcane, divine, primal, psionic, runic, alchemical etc. etc.) I say is Magic. Because that stuff is exactly what my fantasy common sense tells me should be Magic. Being able to read someone else's mind is Magic. Having a sword that can spontaneously burst into flame is Magic. Punching someone and having their entire muscular system fail and shut down is Magic. Being able to innately turn invisible is Magic. And so on.

And in terms of Dispel Magic or an Antimagic Field... those are both so inconsequential to any D&D campaign I have played in or run that I never, EVER worry about trying to make a cohesive rules system about it. Hell... I think the Antimagic Field is the least-used trope in D&D that somehow gets thrown around the MOST for arguing why something or some rule in the game should or shouldn't exist. With the amount of times Antimagic Field gets used as a talking point, you'd think it'd show up in every campaign like every-other session. But they like never or barely-ever actually get used, because it's a rather lame trope in the first place. Maybe one time in a campaign a DM might throw it out there for a unique surprise... but that's pretty much it. It's never been worth the words spewed on its behalf talking about stuff in the game in my opinion. And thus I never even think about it.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
"Magic" is a unique and special snowflake unconfined by these limits, let me explain why.

Because Ric Ocasek, that's why. 🎶 Summer Summer Summer 🎶

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Pictured- My first unsuccessful attempt to cast "Hold Person."
 

Jeff Carlsen

Adventurer
I answered from the perspective of "What is magic in D&D", which to me is heavily influenced by a combination of 3rd edition and my preference for "Psionics is different". In other words, magic is a particular type of supernatural power, often manipulated via spells and magic items but not exclusive to those and also not the only kind of supernatural power.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
UA be damned. The 2e grognard in me says that psionics aren't magic. So I gotta go with #1.

Funny, I feel the same way but choose #3, because while "many" things are also magic, psionics is not one of them to my mind. (see what I did there?) :unsure:;):ROFLMAO:
 

Voadam

Legend
Gut reactions

Superhero powers are often not magic.

3.5 truenaming is magic.

Psionics can be magic or not magic.

Iffy on whether supernatural creatures like a ghost are magic or other.
 

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