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

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Amateurs! If you can't take out an entire city block, it's not worth doing! :p
D&D really does need a magic system with built in consequences. As I have mentioned, I really like Earthdawn's answer to "wizards" and think D&D could implement such a thing (albeit less married to assumed setting elements). Alternatively, having to gather energy or Weave spells or whatever would be a viable alternative. The "it just works" thing for D&D magic is not satisfying.
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
To me, the existence of spells with names that connect them to specific inventors implies that spells not named this way don’t have known inventors, which certainly could be because they’re old and the inventor’s name is lost to history. But there could be many other reasons. Maybe some spells are basic enough it doesn’t make sense to attribute their “invention” to anyone. I’m pretty sure anyone who can do magic could pretty easily come up with the idea of summoning a ball of fire, and whatever Arcane formulae are involved have probably been arrived at independently by countless mages from across the world. I’m sure there must be plenty of spells that were invented by anonymous mages as well. Maybe some mages prefer to keep their spells “open source” as it were. There are all sorts of reasons a spell might not have an inventor mentioned in its name, being old is just one of them.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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.
Gotta love Kieth for boldly taking the exact opposite of Tolkien’s approach, wherein all the best stuff was created in the ancient past, and everything new is just pale imitations of those older, more perfect forms.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Gotta love Kieth for boldly taking the exact opposite of Tolkien’s approach, wherein all the best stuff was created in the ancient past, and everything new is just pale imitations of those older, more perfect forms.
What Baker is forgetting-- or, rather, is embracing what D&D was forgetting-- is that new tech was never safe and sure. Aside from a singular specific subclass, there is no concern about the operability of magic in D&D. That surely wasn't true in the great wars of the 20th century where mines and mortars and guns and bombs didn't always go off as expected.
 


Kurotowa

Legend
Gotta love Kieth for boldly taking the exact opposite of Tolkien’s approach, wherein all the best stuff was created in the ancient past, and everything new is just pale imitations of those older, more perfect forms.
Yeah, that's Tolkien's ethos alright. One part rejection of the modern industrial world and the horrors of World War I, one part a particular line of Catholic thought holding that the world was perfect at the beginning in the Garden of Eden and it's been all downhill since. For better or for worse, Middle Earth was his personal creation and it really reflect him. It's just, being one of the foundations of a new genre, his every little quirk got encoded as a new tradition.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Gotta love Kieth for boldly taking the exact opposite of Tolkien’s approach, wherein all the best stuff was created in the ancient past, and everything new is just pale imitations of those older, more perfect forms.
I've always liked this idea--Keith Baker's idea, I mean. I liked it in GURPS Technomancy as well. It makes magic into not necessarily a science, but still a thing its users are willing to practice with and refine for greater results.

In earlier editions of D&D, there were tons of "improved" spells, although of course they were of higher level, for game balance reasons. Most of those have gone away in 5e, although Level Up has rare spells, which are all versions of standard spells that are (nearly?) always named after someone. They're usually somewhat more powerful than their base spells in one way or another, but that's balanced by their actual rarity. If you want one, you literally have to find it or spend a lot of time and money researching it; you can't just get one when you reach a new level.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Yeah, that's Tolkien's ethos alright. One part rejection of the modern industrial world and the horrors of World War I, one part a particular line of Catholic thought holding that the world was perfect at the beginning in the Garden of Eden and it's been all downhill since. For better or for worse, Middle Earth was his personal creation and it really reflect him. It's just, being one of the foundations of a new genre, his every little quirk got encoded as a new tradition.
Yep. And to be clear, I do like Tolkien’s work, including that aspect of it. It’s just also nice to see fantasy that does something different.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I've always liked this idea--Keith Baker's idea, I mean. I liked it in GURPS Technomancy as well. It makes magic into not necessarily a science, but still a thing its users are willing to practice with and refine for greater results.
I feel like it’s a very versimilar way to use magic, or at least the sort of harder magic you see in most modern fantasy where it works by predictable, testable, repeatable mechanisms. Such magic “realistically” would be iterated and improved upon just like any other technology (in the literal sense of the practical application of specialized knowledge).
 

The Magician climbed the stairs. Midnight found him in his study, poring through leather-bound tomes and untidy portfolios … At one time a thousand or more runes, spells, incantations, curses, and sorceries had been known. The reach of Grand Motholam — Ascolais, the Ide of Kauchique, Almery to the South, the Land of the Falling Wall to the East — swarmed with sorcerers of every description, of whom the chief was the Arch-Necromancer Phandaal. A hundred spells Phandaal personally had formulated — though rumor said that demons whispered at his ear when he wrought magic. Pontecilla the Pious, then ruler of Grand Motholam, put Phandaal to torment, and after a terrible night, he killed Phandaal and outlawed sorcery throughout the land. The wizards of Grand Motholam fled like beetles under a strong light; the lore was dispersed and forgotten, until now, at this dim time, with the sun dark, wilderness obscuring Ascolais, and the white city Kaiin half in ruins, only a few more than a hundred spells remained to the knowledge of man. Of these, Mazirian had access to seventy-three, and gradually, by stratagem and negotiation, was securing the others.
Mazirian made a selection from his books and with great effort forced five spells upon his brain: Phandaal’s Gyrator, Felojun’s Second Hypnotic Spell, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Charm of Untiring Nourishment, and the Spell of the Omnipotent Sphere. This accomplished, Mazirian drank wine and retired to his couch.


-Vance, Jack. Tales of the Dying Earth

While on the one hand it is silly to defer overly to Dying Earth as somehow authoritative just because it was a particular influence of D&D magic, I think it has always been a particular influence for how D&D magic was conceptualized. Furthermore, since its post-apocalyptic setting is evocative of how the middle ages conceptualized lost knowledge of the ancients, and lot of the broader folklore of spells is tied to that particular cultural history, it taps into a broader trend in how magic is treated in fantasy.

Even where D&D settings eschew the magic as lost knowledge thing, the underlying assumptions of the Wizard class is that spells are a thing you find as loot in ancient dungeons, just as the underlying assumption for magical items is that you find the ones made in ancient times and that these are on par with and in many cases better than the ones from current times. Whatever attitude your setting takes there is a certain amount of "we pale before the magical mastery of the ancients" still baked into the basic game assumptions of D&D.

So I think imagining the spells in the PHB as just the remnants of some vaster trove of what spells were once known is, to some degree, the baseline assumption implied by the Wizard class. However, having all the spells assigned to spell lists that any character of sufficient level and class can choose, and having only one class who needs to discover their spells (and even they also get 2 each level for free) undermines this implicit mythology.

On the whole I think D&D's current implicit spell paradigm is very much "these are simply the spells that exist as intrinsic to the Universe". And since Cleric and Druid style prepared spell casting is the type that most demands this on implied lore grounds (the ones who wake up every day and decide which of all the firmly set spells of their class they will choose to access that day), and OneD&D has decided to turn all casters into Clerics and Druids, the future assumed lore is much more firmly "these are the spells that simply exist".
 

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