26 February 2024

The Many Schools of Magic

The Manse has recently published a very nice rant on categorisation of magic where they discuss several approaches to the classification of spells and derive their own schools of magic, a neat and clean system of seven traditions with a rigorous naming convention. But there's a fallacy in this approach, I venture. It's tempting to create a well-defined, all-encompassing set of categories and just use them for everything. I will freely admit to doing just that many a time. But real-world systems are rarely if ever neat. There's always something off, missing or superfluous. New findings undoing the symmetry of old theories, things that do not fit into known patterns, weird edge cases that could go either way, someone who made a mistake a century ago and now it would be too costly to fix it. Classification is a human invention and humans are imperfect.

If the classification of magic is to be used in-universe, I think a different approach is needed. Embrace this imperfection, build on it. Explain it, so that it stops being an irritant and becomes a piece of lore.

Also, why should there be only a single classification?

The Imperial Collegium recognises eight schools of magic:
  1. Abjuration
  2. Conjuration
  3. Divination
  4. Enchantment
  5. Evocation
  6. Illusion
  7. Restoration
  8. Transmutation

Restoration is a very recent addition, founded and still led by Archmage Hasenbach, whose groundbreaking research into positive energy allowed any mage to wield the healing arts that a generation ago would be the sole purview of the divine. Any naysayers who point out that white magic is quite common outside of the Imperium are usually booed out by Hasenbach's near-fanatical followers.

Necromancy used to be a recognised school for centuries, but also illegal for most of the time. After decades of academic misuse, where every spell deemed inappropriate would be labelled as necromantic, and after increasingly pointed inquiries from the Inquisition about why exactly does the Collegium keep a library wing dedicated to illegal magic, Necromancy was officially struck from the Rolls of Magic in the year 769 of the Three United.

One might also wonder about Enchantment and Illusion, the two odd schools out. There used to be a single school of Prestidigitation, but a falling-out between two archmages about three centuries ago led to a schism that created two new, closely related yet highly quarrelsome schools. It is a public secret that whether a spell is an enchantment or an illusion depends entirely on who publishes the paper first.

Foreigners are sometimes confused that the school of Enchantment works with mind-trickery rather than creation of enchanted items. Well, there used to be a school of Imbrication dedicated to crafting enchanted items, but it was officially disbanded in the wake of the Dwarven Trade War.

In Nymbia, magic is colour-coded:
  • White Wizards are the only sanctioned practitioners. They deal in healing, protection and exorcism. Some tower-cabals can get quite militant about their exorcisms, training squads of professional undead hunters, though this get rarer the further one gets away from the Dead Lands.
  • Grey Wizards are a wide assortment of hedge practitioners who hold very disparate secrets, from wood-singing and fate-reading to teleportation and unmaking. They are not allowed to own a tower, so a grey practice rarely has more than a single master and one or two apprentices.
  • Black Wizards are practitioners of the dark arts, which is a nebulous set of practices that include necromancers and biomancers, but also telepaths, mindcrafters and most alchemists. They are outlawed everywhere but in Alema.
  • "Red Wizards", or rather Pyromancers, as they actually call themselves, are foreign to Nymbia, coming from the Great Swamp. Their magic is very limited and narrow in scope, but all the more powerful for it. So powerful in fact, that the authorities have not yet found a response to their increasingly common depredations. Hence also the reason why Black Wizards are now allowed to settle and openly practice in Alema, whose countryside suffers the most from the flame-makers' raids.

An island nation of Sik has an alternate colour scheme to their practitioners:
  • White Mages are healers, just as in Nymbia, but much less belligerent. They are widely recognised as the best surgeons on the continent, capable of cutting away ills of the body and the mind alike.
  • Blue Mages study weather control and ship magic. They can be quite potent war-casters, but their primary focus is binding the powers of the ocean and its storms for use in transportation and agriculture.
  • Silver Mages are spellwrights who specialise in charms - a type of talisman - and wards. While charms against insects, snakebite or the cold, glamour-charms to allure and impress, or any kind of dowsing-charm are sought-after export goods, the much more powerful wardstones that can protect a whole village from locusts or pirates are never sold outside of Sik.

The Mage Guild of Thorlan considers every spell to be an aspect of the four Great Elemental Dragons:
  • Air also covers everything related to swiftness, movement and communication.
  • Earth also deals with the Dead, as the Old Stone Serpent holds dominion over the dearly departed in Thorlan. Earth sages traditionally handle matters of inheritance and murder investigations.
  • Fire also deals with destruction, counter-spells, curses and high emotions.
  • Water also deals with knowledge, illusions, cleansing and low emotions.

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