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D&D General Who Invents Spells, and How Old Are They


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Kurotowa

Legend
I usually dont use the spells in the PHB as ''spells'' in fiction: they are a description of the effect produced by expending a spell slot on a custom/personnal/setting specific spell.

ie: Wizard Bob in my game doesnt cast ''Fireball'', he cast ''Invoke the Sovereign Pyre'' as spell creating the ''Fireball'' effect, designed by the cultist of Imix somewhere in the Hordelands and who found its way to his spellbook when he traded his best shoes and a nice bottle of chianti for it.
That's definitely one way to do it. I've previously suggested that a generic Fireball or Magic Missile is what the upstart Wizard's Guild teaches, as part of their effort to standardize and codify the arcane curriculum for mass distribution. Meanwhile it's the traditionalists, the lone wizards in their towers with a handful of personal apprentices, that still teach Invoke the Sovereign Pyre and Inerrant Adamant Dart complete with all the little personal flourishes.

Another, as several people have brought up, is to attribute the unsigned spells to an ancient civilization of high magic that established all the common foundational ones. Certainly nearly every D&D setting is post-post-apocalyptic, where nations are on the rise again after a previous collapse that littered the landscape with magical ruins and lost artifacts and sealed away dangers. So it's not like it takes any major rewrites to fit that in.

Interestingly, for Eberron Keith Baker has suggested that magic (at least, as practiced by mortals) is continually on the rise. The spells in the PHB are the optimized results of intense development during the Last War. If you traveled back in time, Fireball might roll d4s, or be a 5th level spell. Sure, some ancients like the giants of Xen'drik had impressively powerful magic. But it was all in lengthy rituals or massive eldritch machines. So their stuff comes up as key plot devices, but if one of those ancients pops out of stasis and fights the PCs it's an even match.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
It gets to the fundamental question of what magic spells are, what wizards are, and how much or little like science magic is in any given D&D world. Is there a big library somewhere with all the spells ever developed? Do wizards go to not-Hogwarts and that's why they all know all the same spells? Are spells (generally) easy and safe to cast because they have been tested and tweaked for centuries?

Personally, I think it would be fun if all spells were unique to specific casters. If you gathered up a bunch of 3PP magic books you could probably do it, too. Every wizard and warlock manipulates the forces of "magic" in their own way and creates their own spells. Throw in some sort of spell check and failure consequence and it would feel very different from regular D&D magic without necessarily screwing up the balance of things (and maybe balance out casters a little bit). It's probably too much, but it is fun to think about.
I don't think it would be too hard to do, especially if you had enough spells or simply reskinned existing spells in some way so that they seemed different. Your PC may have a standard magic missile and you give an NPC the same spell, but it conjures a flying snake that inflicts damage-resistance-ignoring piercing damage. The PCs don't have to know that they're otherwise identical spells.
 

Xamnam

Loves Your Favorite Game
I like a lot of what the term The Weave implies about magic, even if it's not mechanically reflected. It nods at an interconnectedness, how everything holds everything else together, and wants to stay in a relative position. So, to me, I've always pictured "standard" magic spells as a temporary flow or direction of power that is particularly stable, a Lagrange Point of sorts. Magic Missile? As long as you can interact with the Weave, it barely requires much of a nudge, though it dissipates quickly and only channels a small chunk of power. The higher the spell level, the more it requires forcing magic out of pattern, the harder it is to pull together, the more specific of intention you need. Of course, as you become more familiar with the manipulation of magic, the more you see where seemingly paradoxical positions can actually be rather self-reinforcing.

So, your cantrips, as I like to view them, those can almost be discovered by accident, frequently are in fact. If you play with magic, it just makes sense. Was there a "first" spellcaster of it, an inventor? Sure, but it's not like they claim some unique understanding of it. The spells that still bear the creator's name are exactly that because they stand alone in un-intuitiveness. Not impossible to discover of your own volition, but not necessarily likely outside of some truly inspired spark of creation.

Now, in that context, the common spells, the ones without a name attached, are downright ancient, because they've been invented and discovered thousands of times over. I'll admit, this logic needs a bit of finessing when you get to things like 9th level ones, so I'm still trying to think how to fit those into this theory.
 


bloodtide

Legend
This get answered in lots of older D&D lore:

A spell is simply a formula to focus magical energy of the Weave(or whatever you want to call it). By use of will power you can call upon and shape a tiny bit of magic to do a desired effect. An individuals thoughts and will power do modt of the work to shape the raw magic, then through the 'lenses' of verbal, somatic and material components to get the exact desired effect.

A spell caster would sit and think, will, speak, gesture and use materials over and over and over and over again until they got just the right effect: The Published Spell.

Technically, every spellcaster has a unique, but similar spell formula.......but game rules just assume they are all the same to keep things simple.

And spellcasters need not create every spell from scratch. People do write spell formulas down, so you can just read them and learn how to cast the spell that way.

Game wise everyone has exactly the same spells as publishers are unwilling to put out books of thousands of spells.

Back in 2E in the Realms, there were some custom spells made by each spell caster, but it never caugh on much as it takes up too much space.

The players handbook spells are very generic......people have been "inventing" and "discovering" those listed spells for thousands of years. Though they are also the most common spells known to be in spell libraries.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I like a lot of what the term The Weave implies about magic, even if it's not mechanically reflected. It nods at an interconnectedness, how everything holds everything else together, and wants to stay in a relative position. So, to me, I've always pictured "standard" magic spells as a temporary flow or direction of power that is particularly stable, a Lagrange Point of sorts. Magic Missile? As long as you can interact with the Weave, it barely requires much of a nudge, though it dissipates quickly and only channels a small chunk of power. The higher the spell level, the more it requires forcing magic out of pattern, the harder it is to pull together, the more specific of intention you need. Of course, as you become more familiar with the manipulation of magic, the more you see where seemingly paradoxical positions can actually be rather self-reinforcing.

So, your cantrips, as I like to view them, those can almost be discovered by accident, frequently are in fact. If you play with magic, it just makes sense. Was there a "first" spellcaster of it, an inventor? Sure, but it's not like they claim some unique understanding of it. The spells that still bear the creator's name are exactly that because they stand alone in un-intuitiveness. Not impossible to discover of your own volition, but not necessarily likely outside of some truly inspired spark of creation.

Now, in that context, the common spells, the ones without a name attached, are downright ancient, because they've been invented and discovered thousands of times over. I'll admit, this logic needs a bit of finessing when you get to things like 9th level ones, so I'm still trying to think how to fit those into this theory.
This post makes me miss Earthdawn's magic system.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Who invented the common spells?
In most of my settings:

Arcane Magic Spells are invented by Quasi-Deities: Titans, Demigods, Vestiges, and Immortals.

They are divine but lack divine magic. So they tap into the Arcane Magic of the God(dess) with their divinty and manipulate it. They taught the first mortal arcanists who then refined it. These refinements are the first spells.

How old are they?
The Quasi-Dieities are mostly super ancient. The first arcanists are either dead or quasi-deities at this point.


Do you give players input on these questions?
They can name one if they want.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
For my Jewel of the Desert (Dungeon World) game:

There are four main traditions of magic in the Tarrakhuna, the region where the game is set. Those are the Waziri Order (wizards), the Safiqi Priesthood (clerics and paladins), the Kahina (druids and shaman), and the Rawuna (bards.) There are underlying common elements for them, but also ways in which they are totally distinct.

Waziri magic is fundamentally analytical and imitative. It can be extremely dangerous to cast Waziri-type magic without a proven arcane formula first (as in, "blow up a whole building" dangerous), so Waziri mages tend to be very conservative with their spellcasting. (In theory this could be abused, but the whole "you will definitely die and probably kill all your friends too if you do this" angle helps reduce that issue.) They look down on other disciplines because most forms of magic they can imitate or recompile into Waziri format, which is it's greatest strength, but they are incredibly jealous of their work and thus advancement overall can be very slow. Hence, the reason everyone uses the same Fireball spell is that that's a formula which escaped the jealous clutches of its creator and which provides provable, consistent results. It's sort of like learning new chemical reactions; once the secret gets out, people will copy that reaction rather than trying ti reinvent things themselves every time. New spells can totally be developed! But that sort of thing either happens very slowly or only arises from being able to analyze (usually destructively) magical effects created by other disciplines. Few Waziri can heal, but it is possible for them to learn (it's just very difficult, as anatomy is difficult to account for in mathematical formulae.)

Safiqi magic is the magic of faith, exemplars, and banishment/judgment. The priesthood studies theology and the lives of saints in order to understand the divine and how mortals have called upon its power. The Safiqi (lay and clergy) worship the One, a being they claim is the infinite and ineffable creator of all that exists. The One, they claim, cannot be understood in Their entirety but must instead be understood through Their infinite aspects or facets that are individually finite and digestible. The "prime" aspect is the Great Architect, the facet understood as regarding creating, preserving, planning, and ruling; other known facets include the Unknown Knower (knowledge, stealth, research, concealment), the Stalwart Soldier (reactive protection, loyalty, hardiness, play/sport, solidarity), the Resolute Seeker (hunting, purification, revelation, proactive protection), and the Soothing Flame (light, healing, fire, community, kindness.) Most Safiqi spellcasters dedicate themselves to some specific facet of the One, which shapes the manner of how they do magical things, but not the specific spells they have access to. The Safiqi can do a lot, but they are completely incapable of calming the spirits of the unquiet dead; they can rebuke or temporarily banish them, but cannot resolve the problem, only the next group can. Because they all share one common religious origin, their spells are all the same.

Kahina can be split into two groups: druids and shaman. The former, also known as Kahina of the "living" spirits, interface with spiritual/primal energies as they manifest in the world itself, moreso than in the spirit world. Hence, they learn to take the power of "living" animal spirits into themselves (shape shift) and work with active, concrete manifestations of natural energy like elementals. Shaman, or Kahina of the "dead" spirits, tend to be more in tune with the subtle background of spirit activity; they see the spirit of a forest that slowly coalesces from the spirits of many trees living in the same space for a long time, that sort of thing. They also contact the more distant, "archetypal" spirits that permanently reside in the spirit world. Instead of bringing these spirits into themselves, they bind spirits to totems and call upon those totemic spirits for aid. Unlike the Safiqi, all Kahina can lay the unquiet dead to rest (druids pull dead spirits back into the current flow of life energy; shaman send dead spirits on to their final rest in the spirit world.) However, Kahina cannot banish otherworldly spirits from the world, at least not powerful ones like devils and demons. Most Kahina practice magic in a way that doesn't involve "spells," but those who do are tapping a common wellspring (the knowledge of the ancestors as obtained from the spirit world and transcendental spirit journeys), so the few who do cast spells proper do so in similar ways.

Finally the Rawuna, the bards who paint the sky with their tales, are the most eclectic and hard to pin down. Which is quite fitting, really. Most Rawuna get started with basic Waziri education before learning from the Nomad Tribes' oral historians. Rawuna can learn from almost anyone, sort of like Waziri, but do so in a poetic, humanities-focused kind of way rather than the STEM-style formulae if the Waziri. The way this has manifested in game was a player (effectively) breaking down and rebuilding the story of the life of a particular Safiqi saint, not as a theological study, but as a tale to grip the soul and fill the mind with beautiful images (allowing the party Bard, after sufficient effort, to cleanse poisons and toxins with his Arcane Art, in addition to the standard effects.) Rawuna thus don't really have "spells" in the usual rigid sense, but just as four-chord songs are super common, you can find common themes (pun intended) in Rawuna practice.

The only other major form of magic is a dark reflection of Safiqi magic, practiced by a breakaway heretical sect, the Zil al-Ghurab or (as we more commonly say it) the "Raven-Shadows." They're a fanatically devoted assassin-cult who practice shadow magic, which is related to Safiqi magic but much more aggressive and generally less supportive. This isn't a form of magic most people even know exists, though, so it's much less well understood than the others. It has some connection to devils, however, and retains the Safiqi emphasis on banishing influences which do not belong in the world (and the inability to get rid of restless dead who are, properly speaking, native to the world and thus not outside influences to be banished.)

The players themselves, across two games, helped to define what the magic system was of this world. I mostly just played a guiding/coordinating role, with the ideas largely coming from the players. We haven't explored the depths of Rawuna magic much, despite having a Bard, but that appears to be changing. We'll see what further revelations await!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Waziri magic is fundamentally analytical and imitative. It can be extremely dangerous to cast Waziri-type magic without a proven arcane formula first (as in, "blow up a whole building" dangerous)
Amateurs! If you can't take out an entire city block, it's not worth doing! :p
 

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