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Overview

Magic is a widely used term that covers spiritual forces, other-worldly intervention, and other cosmic events that can't be explained by science or religion. Magic is normally of either arcane or divine origin. General acts of magic are typically known as spells.

Magic commonly implement into games because of the countless different things it can do that defy the laws of nature. It therefore instils entertainment to the player. In some cases magic can set people on fire; in others it can electrocute people, enable them to fly, grant telekinesis, heal your allies, create bridges, turn you invisible, shrink you down, etc. If you can imagine it, magic can do it.

Magic is the all-inclusive force that can make impossible things possible, there is no one universal reason or source of magic, it's different for each game and setting. Magic is a powerful narrative device, for example "Why did the block break when it was struck?" "Magic." It is an all purpose scape goat for explanations.

Magic often takes components in order to enact. Whether they are tangible materials, a spoken word, a series of hand gestures, mana, or others. In conjunction with the components it also requires a casting-time which allows for a balance in games for the more powerful spells. Due to the limitations involved in actually casting magic, and the rewards to be reaped from it, spellcasters are often very vulnerable in close combat. This has created one of the golden rules of RPGs: "Always kill the mage first".

Magic in disguise

A lot of writers, not just in games, deliberately avoid the term "magic". Because it has such a loose definition, nobody can really identify or relate to a world where magic exists. A couple examples:

Mass Effect uses the mass effect, Element Zero's ability to alter the mass of objects, to explain things like telekinesis, invisibility, faster-than-light travel, force-fields, and other similar impossible phenomenon. It is practically magic, but it makes the fiction a lot stronger and believable to say that it technically isn't.
Full Metal Alchemist is set in an alternate universe where humanity never made the huge advancements in physics, such as the internal combustion engine or storing electrical energy; but instead made huge leaps in alchemy, a real-life pseudo-science. It's said that alchemy has advanced so far beyond how we know it now that it can aid impossible things like creating fire out of thin air, turning nickel to gold, or turning rocks into bullets. Again, it is practically magic, but writers like to come up with reasons why it isn't.
A common example is genetic enhancements. Bioshock, Psi-Ops, Too Human, Crackdown, X-men; soldiers can do incredible things because of genetic enhancements. It's practically magic, but technically not. Get it?

Magick (or magik) is a term outside of video games that's been used for decades. People who believe in sorcery, witchcraft, or the dark arts use "magick" to distinguish the forces they believe in from common everyday magicians like David Copperfield or Penn and Teller. Basically, to a true believer, "magic" is an entertaining form of illusion, and "magick" is a world-bending display of sorcery. That's where the term comes from.

The Disciplines of magic

Magic is commonly divided into two basic categories: Offensive or Defensive:

  • Offensive: Offensive magic is used to inflict the most damage as fast as possible in order to eliminate your foe. In most settings/games, offensive magic is primarily of arcane origin. The classic example of an offensive spell, is the fireball spell found in most RPGs. In some settings, offensive magic is simply referred to as black magic.
  • Defensive: Defensive magic is used to keep spellcaster's allies protected from all forms of damage, such as other magic or physical damage. It is also used to keep the party alive, through healing magic. Defensive magic is commonly simply called white magic.

Schools of magic

Traditional Western RPGs' typically refer to the different aspects of arcane magic by schools. Each school of magic governs a unique set of powers and abilities:

School namePowers
AbjurationProtective spells, countering / dispelling other magic
ConjurationSummoning loyal creatures to do battle, manifesting objects, teleportation spells
IllusionIllusions / phantasms, invisibility, illusionary sounds, deceit
DivinationTelling the future, scrying, diving knowledge
EnchantmentManipulation of minds, inflicting forced sleep or confusion, infusing magic into mundane items
Transmutation / alterationTransforming oneself into another other creature, changing characteristics of a material, altering the size of somebody
Evocation / invocation / destructionManipulation of different elemental energies, such as electricity, ice and fire, large variety of offensive spells such as the fireball spell
NecromancyShaping of life energy, resurrecting the dead to do the mage's bidding, prolonging / shortening of lifespan

Many other classifications of magic exist. Divine magic is usually classified as either Holy or Unholy.

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