What is arcane magic?

Flobby

Explorer
Maybe a silly question but what the heck is arcane magic?
Other types of magic/powers/whatever make sense --
divine/primal magic can be explained by gods and spirits...
psionics can be explained by latent powers of the brain...

So what is arcane magic then? How to make sense out of a spell? Or do I just have too much free time?...
 

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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
The way I see it is that arcane magic is kind of like science.

Its practitioners have, by research or force of will, been able to figure out certain things about the way the (magical) universe works, and have applied that knowledge to create effects called spells.

Because they are not gods who created the (magical) universe or granted power by the gods through extreme devotion, their spells are not as efficient, and thus often require somatic components.

Divine casters have been given driving lessons and the keys to the car...arcane casters popped the ignition and hotwired it.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Words have power. So do symbols. You invoke the right words, you can make people feel like they've been slapped in the face. Yell fire in a crowded theater, you can kill a few people. You paint the right symbols on the ground, you can bring lines of cars to a screeching halt.

In a word where some sort of hermetic-style magic works, this is not merely something that affect people; these things affect the world. Name fire properly and you can summon it. Draw the right symbol on the ground, and you can bring everything to a forcible halt.

Authentic Thaumaturgy: The Laws of Magic is a chapter from Authentic Thaumaturgy, an RPG supplement by Isaac Bonewits, including the rules for "real" magic. Bonewits really believes it; you don't have to, but it is a view as to how real people believe magic works, filtered for reading by roleplayers.
 
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cavalier973

Adventurer
I highly recommend Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, the first book is Storm Front. It will give you an idea of how arcane magic would work if it were real.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
Maybe a silly question but what the heck is arcane magic?
Other types of magic/powers/whatever make sense --
divine/primal magic can be explained by gods and spirits...
psionics can be explained by latent powers of the brain...

So what is arcane magic then? How to make sense out of a spell? Or do I just have too much free time?...
I've always adopted the Rolemaster view for D&D. Rolemaster divides magic into three realms: Channeling, Essence, and Mentalism.
- Channeling uses the power of a deity or some other divine or external agency
- Mentalism uses the power within the spell user himself
- Essence uses the power of the surrounding nature

Channeling = D&D's Divine/Primal
Mentalism = D&D's Psionics
Essence = D&D's Arcane

The source of arcane magic is most obvious in the Dark Sun setting: Unless you're careful you destroy (plant) life surrounding you when drawing the power required for a spell.
 

Chrono22

Banned
Banned
Some people go with the "arcane magic as science" view. It never made much sense to me, but I guess the reasoning was that magic and science become indistinguishable after a certain point.

I ascribe to the view that arcane magic users are actually tearing away sections of reality every time they cast. See, the foundation upon which reality rests isn't as solid as most people would hope. It is held in balance by elemental forces, ancient laws, and the ignorance of the common man. Far realms beyond the ken of understanding (non)exist outside the laws of time and causality. In those (non)places, the thoughts, will and convictions of a being manifest power. Arcane casters punch a hole in reality, and through that hole are able to manifest their will. In this way, the ravaged physical laws around them are forced into subservience.
This is not without its own costs. Excessive use of magic has caused irreparable damage to the planes. In several instances, the very integrity of reality itself has been jeopardized.
 

TheClone

First Post
Arcane magic is the DM's joker to any situation. Want to have something strange, something cool or anything else? Make it magic!

The ingame explanation is science-based most of the time. As the average guy is unable to understand what science is doing so is the average fantasy guy unable to understand magic. But both are working.
 

Merkuri

First Post
Some people go with the "arcane magic as science" view. It never made much sense to me, but I guess the reasoning was that magic and science become indistinguishable after a certain point.

I see the connection. Science can look like magic to people who aren't familiar with it. Wizards are often portrayed as people who study long and hard to learn their trade (like scientists). Supposedly they know the laws of the universe so well that they can bend and break them (like scientists seem to do sometimes). They employ ancient languages in their work (like scientists). They use lots of books (like scientists).
 

Saeviomagy

Adventurer
The entire world is like the astral chaos: shapeable by thought.

The world only exists because people believe that it does, and it only behaves how it does because people believe.

And mages have convinced people that muttering obscure words and making arcane gestures makes the world behave differently... and since those people believe, it does.

Or, you know, whatever floats your boat. The FR version is basically "the gods make it work".
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Here's some snippets from how I define it on my world of Orea.

I'll be updating the thread, http://www.enworld.org/forum/plots-places/284160-orea-world-its-people.html with more specifics on the magic of that world later today if anyone wants to check it.

But specifically for "Arcane" magic here's what I have:

"Magic on the world of Orea is a form of all pervading energy that is able to be harnessed and controlled to various effect in any number of ways. The sources of magic on Orea are classified by the sages of Flin into: Arcane -the magic of wizards gained through study, practice and research, Divine -the magic of priests and paladins gained through meditation, prayer and the divine favor of their respective deity, and Natural (also called "Primal") -the magic of the druids and other classes and creatures (like shamans, the Sorarynae, and the natural abilities of the zepharim) gained through ancient teaching/practices, innate ability and/or communion with the ambient energies of the cosmos."

and...

"[SIZE=+1]Arcane Magic[/SIZE], also call Arcanum, is the magic of study. The magic of wizards and sorcerers. The energy of Arcane magic flows through the whole of the realm, like air. It is self-perpetuating and replenishing, the energy is "built in" to the world of Orea itself. These energies are capable of being harnessed through spells and rituals."

To illustrate the distinction, this excerpt from the section on Natural Magic.

"[SIZE=+1]Natural (or Cosmic or Universal or Primal) Magic[/SIZE] is the primordial power of the world of Orea itself. The residual energies of the entities Ahl and Zho (who created the world and heavens and then departed them and their creations (dragons and titans). If arcane magic is an energy that flows throughout Orea like air, and divine magic is bits of essence of the gods, then Natural or Cosmic magic is more like a radiation that emanates from, with and through everything, everyone, everywhere. "

--Steel Dragons
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
the game's arcane magic is a (very, very) loose interpretation and amalgam of the magical traditions of late Middle-Ages and Renaissance Europe, and a lot of fantasy.

Very broadly, there's magical energy loose in the universe that can be tapped and channled, if you have the right words, symbols, formulae, and state of mind.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Maybe a silly question but what the heck is arcane magic?
Other types of magic/powers/whatever make sense --
divine/primal magic can be explained by gods and spirits...
psionics can be explained by latent powers of the brain...

So what is arcane magic then? How to make sense out of a spell? Or do I just have too much free time?...

For me, the answer varies depending on the campaign I'm running.

Typically, I view arcane magic in one of two ways. One, which might be called "wizard magic," is that it's a kind of science. The arcanist has learned through painstaking study to use spoken words, written symbols, gestures, and material components to shape the universe. This is probably closest to the traditional D&D view.

The other view, "warlock magic," is that arcanists gain their powers from extraplanar beings such as demons and primordials. Using some combination of bribery (offering sacrifices or services in the material plane) and extortion (using a being's true name or other secrets to threaten it), the arcanist induces these beings to provide him or her with mystical abilities.
 

Flobby

Explorer
Words have power. So do symbols. You invoke the right words, you can make people feel like they've been slapped in the face. Yell fire in a crowded theater, you can kill a few people. You paint the right symbols on the ground, you can bring lines of cars to a screeching halt.

In a word where some sort of hermetic-style magic works, this is not merely something that affect people; these things affect the world. Name fire properly and you can summon it. Draw the right symbol on the ground, and you can bring everything to a forcible halt.

Authentic Thaumaturgy: The Laws of Magic is a chapter from Authentic Thaumaturgy, an RPG supplement by Isaac Bonewits, including the rules for "real" magic. Bonewits really believes it; you don't have to, but it is a view as to how real people believe magic works, filtered for reading by roleplayers.

I get that words do have power --- but invoking fire by naming it never made sense to me... With so many languages in the world what does it mean for something to have "true name"?

[MENTION=19675]Dannyalcatraz[/MENTION]
That kind of makes sense... that arcane magic is playing with the power of the gods/nature directly instead of being "granted" the power through worship or pact or whatever. But isn't doesn't a god have power because, well, they are a god? What is the "power of the gods"? If you are manipulating things mentally, doesn't that sound like psionics?
 

Flobby

Explorer
[MENTION=58197]Dausuul[/MENTION]
now warlock magic makes sense, its a lot divine magic but what are "magical words, components etc.?"
 

Flobby

Explorer
Some people go with the "arcane magic as science" view. It never made much sense to me, but I guess the reasoning was that magic and science become indistinguishable after a certain point.

I ascribe to the view that arcane magic users are actually tearing away sections of reality every time they cast. See, the foundation upon which reality rests isn't as solid as most people would hope. It is held in balance by elemental forces, ancient laws, and the ignorance of the common man. Far realms beyond the ken of understanding (non)exist outside the laws of time and causality. In those (non)places, the thoughts, will and convictions of a being manifest power. Arcane casters punch a hole in reality, and through that hole are able to manifest their will. In this way, the ravaged physical laws around them are forced into subservience.
This is not without its own costs. Excessive use of magic has caused irreparable damage to the planes. In several instances, the very integrity of reality itself has been jeopardized.

Okay I can buy that, but then what does the mage do? Is he mentally accessing these forces?
 

Flobby

Explorer
the game's arcane magic is a (very, very) loose interpretation and amalgam of the magical traditions of late Middle-Ages and Renaissance Europe, and a lot of fantasy.

Very broadly, there's magical energy loose in the universe that can be tapped and channled, if you have the right words, symbols, formulae, and state of mind.

I know I'm saying the same thing over and over but what are "right words, symbols, formulae"?

I can see that arcane magic is like a science, and that you are directly accessing the power of the universe, but why would a special word or symbol help you in this? Why does gesture A + word B make a fireball (or whatever)?

And I know that its a game and all you need to say is "hey its magic!"
I just got to thinking if magic did really work, how would it work?
 

Dausuul

Legend
[MENTION=58197]Dausuul[/MENTION]
now warlock magic makes sense, its a lot divine magic but what are "magical words, components etc.?"

The main idea is that in the D&D world, certain symbols (written and spoken) are not just arbitrary labels invented by humans for describing reality; they are reality. The true name of a thing is not just a descriptor, it is part of the essence of what that thing is. Therefore, if you know the true name, you have power over the thing.

Try this analogy: Knowing a true name is like having someone's DNA sequence. The DNA sequence is not, itself, a person. It's just data. But with the proper tools, you can do a lot with that data--you can determine the person's parentage, find out their susceptibility to many diseases, clone them, make gene therapies or biological weapons tailored to their physiology, et cetera.

An even better comparison might be the source code of software. The source code is not itself software--you can't just dump a bunch of C++ files on your computer and execute them--but it contains the essential definition of what the software is. Given the right development environment, you can use the source code to replicate and change the software in fundamental ways.

As for how the sulfur and bat guano and other such implements factor into it... it's part of the "physics" of symbol-based magic. In some highly technical way that would likely take years of studying arcane theory to fully understand, these tools allow you to put true names to use, in the same way that the equipment in a genetics lab allows a geneticist to use a DNA sequence, or a development environment allows a software developer to use source code.

(I will add that I'm not a huge fan of magic-as-science, and I prefer arcane magic to be primarily "warlock magic" with just a sprinkling of "wizard magic" elements. But this is how I see "wizard magic" working.)
 
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NichG

First Post
If you consider an animistic world, then the symbols/words/etc would be the language of the spirits of nature, or if not a proper language then at least things that they respond to in a predictable way, like a dog can have a trained response. Or they're the words of a compact between the caster and the local spirits. Of course, Spirit Shaman takes up that idea somewhat.

I ran a campaign once where the entire campaign world was the dream of an entity outside reality (and this in fact wrapped around so that every world was the dream of someone in the next world, until it came back to the first, so if any of them 'woke up' the whole thing falls apart). It didn't highlight much, but there was a kind of magic you could do by knowing symbols or imagery that was meaningful to the dreamer, and by invoking those you could cause the dream to go in different directions.

In that setting there was also standard D&D magic, based on the idea that the dreamer was having a dream about a world where saying certain words or writing certain symbols created magic, and so it was so.

So there are a number of ways to go with a behind-the-scenes take on arcane magic.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
That kind of makes sense... that arcane magic is playing with the power of the gods/nature directly instead of being "granted" the power through worship or pact or whatever. But isn't doesn't a god have power because, well, they are a god? What is the "power of the gods"? If you are manipulating things mentally, doesn't that sound like psionics?

Yes, gods have power because they're gods, some of which they loan to their believers. That magic is part of their innate nature.

Psionics is, in some ways, a halfway point between divine and arcane, and as such, has features of both.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Why does gesture A + word B make a fireball (or whatever)?

Why does hitting two pieces of special metal together cause them to explode with enough power to level a city? It's part of the special properties of uranium, but why? If someone grew up in my culture, but didn't have high school chemistry or physics, that could be a very long complex discussion. (And it would take years of study to actually understand why you can do this with uranium and not radium.) If someone who grew up in the Forgotten Realms asked that question, I think it would be an exercise in futility to try and explain it. The list of concepts they'd have to internalize before understanding it, like atoms and the conservation of energy, is just too long and too alien.

Correspondingly, even if a wizard was here and willing to explain it, I think it would be an exercise in futility. Ultimately, that's the way it works, and if it were real, there would probably be some deep rules underlying it, but we'd have a hell of a time getting them through our heads.
 

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